May 1, 2009 in City
Northwest swine flu cases climb as officials urge caution
Kootenai County reported its first probable swine flu case Thursday, a woman in her 60s who recently traveled to Texas.
Idaho health officials said she is recovering from the viral infection and did not require hospitalization.
Meanwhile, the number of probable swine flu cases in Washington state more than doubled to 13 on Thursday. Seven more Seattle-area people were feared to have the illness.
The fast-spreading swine flu virus – so named because the virus left its pig host to infect humans – has health officials around the world scrambling to identify the sick, press a good-hygiene campaign and close some public institutions, including schools.
One Spokane man likely has the virus after traveling to California. He is in his 40s and has children who attend Sheridan Elementary School, said Spokane health officer Dr. Joel McCullough, who had been scheduled to start his new job running the Spokane Regional Health District today until the unfolding scare brought him on board early.
No local schools have been closed, he said, noting that Sheridan students are at minimal risk because there was no evidence the man’s children were infected.
Officials were cautioning parents to keep sick children home and remind them of the basics of preventing illnesses.
Like most Inland Northwest school districts, Spokane is sending letters home to parents updating them on how the district is handling swine flu concerns, said district spokeswoman Terren Roloff.
“If individuals have traveled to Mexico, California, Texas or New York City in the last seven days or have been close to someone who has, and also have flu-like symptoms, please contact your health care provider,” the letter states.
Coeur d’Alene school officials also are cautioning parents about the dangers of the illness and offering prevention advice.
Letters to parents in the Central Valley School District will go home today, said district spokeswoman Melanie Rose.
Across the country, swine flu has closed about 300 schools – including several in Seattle, where four students ages 5 to 12 likely have the virus.
The Spokane man, whom McCullough declined to identify, was cooperating as investigators attempted to retrace his steps to find and stop any illness patterns. It will be several days before lab tests at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm whether he has swine flu.
About 95 percent of suspect flu samples sent to the CDC during the past couple of weeks have been confirmed as swine flu, said Bill Edstrom, an epidemiologist with Spokane’s health district.
At Spokane’s City Hall, bottles of hand sanitizer have been put in bathrooms and other locations.
Businesses across the city reminded workers of sick leave policies, encouraging those who think they may be ill to stay home rather than risk infecting co-workers.
There is no vaccine effective against the swine flu. McCullough said it may be six months before researchers can make a vaccine and get it ready for mass distribution.
Yet there are antiviral drugs, including Tamiflu, that have proven effective at combating the virus.
McCullough stressed that Bloomsday, Spokane’s 12-kilometer footrace that expects more than 40,000 participants, will still take place Sunday.
Davenport Hotel spokesman Tom McArthur said Thursday he knew of only one possible Bloomsday cancellation related to the virus.
The hotel will be flexible in enforcing its 24-hour cancellation policy, noting that some foreign governments are suggesting citizens not travel to the United States.
Caution recommended by the Canadian government led to a decision by three groups from north of the border to cancel at the Spokane downtown Doubletree, general manager Mike McLeod said. No one else has backed out.
Red Lion hotels in the Spokane area have not been affected, said spokeswoman Julie Langenheim, nor have any of the other 40-plus hotel locations around the West.
Staff writers Bert Caldwell, Jonathan Brunt and Sara Leaming and the Associated Press contributed to this report.