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5 suspected Nevada swine flu cases sent to CDC

Updated Thursday, April 30, 2009 | 6:16 p.m.

CDC experts discuss swine flu

CDC experts talk about the swine flu.

Nevada health officials confirmed today that five individual tests for the new flu strain have been sent to a federal laboratory for confirmation.

The cases originated in both Northern and Southern Nevada and will be tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta within 48 hours.

The probability for these cases testing positive for the new flu, which includes swine, bird and human strains, is high, officials said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday officially changed the name of swine flu to 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) virus.

Since the strain that has sickened thousands has not been discovered in hog populations anywhere in the world, United States health officials changed the name. The virus is a new combination of swine, bird and human influenzas. It has been found in human beings ranging in age from 2 years to 81 years of age.

Northern Nevada officials announced Wednesday night that the mother of Nevada's first swine flu case is being tested for the strain of flu as confirmed cases nationwide increased to 109 today.

Washoe County Health District officials confirmed Wednesday that a 2-year-old girl in Reno has the H1N1 strain, but was not hospitalized and is recovering. She and her family had no connections to Mexico.

The girl attended Fundamentals Preschool in Reno, but Washoe County health officials said the school would remain open. The preschool has a good record with the state and is cooperating with health authorities to sanitize its classrooms and all areas that might be contaminated with the new strain of flu identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

Since a person with swine flu may be contagious one day before symptoms appear and up to seven days after symptoms appear, Washoe County health officials said they are monitoring students and staff at Fundamental Preschool, since they already have been exposed to the virus, said Judy David, spokeswoman for the Washoe County Health District. By keeping the preschool open, health officials said the infection may be contained if children are not moved to other area schools.

Nevada health officials said Wednesday not to panic over the state's first confirmed case of swine flu. The state is prepared with plenty of medication to treat the new illness, and officials cautioned that the situation could get worse.

"It is likely that we will find more cases," said Dr. Mary Guinan, acting state health officer who was on the U.S. team that tracked initial cases of AIDS. "There are cases popping up all over the country. Ninety percent of the cases in the United States did not have a direct connection to Mexico, and we don't know why they are popping up and where."

Federal laboratory results traced the new virus to the 2-year-old Reno girl after state laboratory tests could not match it with any existing influenza strains.

"It's likely that it's been in the community for a while, but we haven't detected it," Guinan said of the swine flu. "It's only because we increased our surveillance that we did find it."

State Health and Human Resources Director Mike Willden said his office has been flooded with calls from people asking where they could buy a vaccine or medication. There is no vaccine for swine flu and treatment is only appropriate for people a short time after they develop symptoms, usually within 48 hours of symptoms.

"The message so far is absolutely let's not panic," Willden said, encouraging people to carefully practice personal hygiene by washing hands thoroughly after coughing or sneezing and before eating, covering their mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing and staying home if symptoms of an illness develops.

For the past three years Willden said Nevada has been preparing for an outbreak of disease such as this. The nation has been preparing plans for how to handle biological, chemical or other threats for five years.

The state has plenty of medication in stock to handle the problem, Willden said, referring people to the Centers for Disease Control's Web site, "Swine flu and you," and his department's Web site for further information.

Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign issued a joint statement Wednesday on the federal response to the outbreak.

"We want to assure Nevadans that this situation is receiving the full attention and resources of local, state and federal government," they said. "The planning and the funding we have provided to date have helped to ensure that we are prepared to minimize the impact of this virus." The senators also noted that this strain of swine flu is not transmitted by eating pork or pork products. As long as pork is well cooked, it is safe to eat.

Gov. Jim Gibbons issued a press release urging education and recommending the same Web sites, saying the swine flu is easily treatable. "Many people are suffering through needless anxiety," Gibbons said. "This is not a time for overreaction, fear, or panic."

The Senate Health and Education Committee will hear a similar swine flu presentation on Friday.

After the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, raised its alert level to one notch below a global pandemic declaration on Wednesday, President Barack Obama pledged "great vigilance" in confronting the swine flu outbreak as the illness spread to 11 states and closed schools after the first U.S. death of a Mexican toddler who visited Texas with his family and after dozens of Marines were confined to their barracks at Twenty Nine Palms, Calif., after one came down with the disease.

"The key now is to just make sure we are maintaining great vigilance, that everybody responds appropriately when cases do come up," Obama said. "And individual families start taking very sensible precautions that can make a huge difference."

Obama praised the Bush administration for making such preparations for a crisis, such as stockpiling 50 million doses of antivral medications. Nevada has appropriate medication stockpiled around the state.

Dr. Richard Besser, acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said there were 109 confirmed cases in 11 states, including 10 new cases in South Carolina, 51 in New York, 16 in Texas, 14 in California, two in Massachusetts and one in Michigan. The CDC also counted cases in Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Arizona, Indiana, Nevada and Ohio. State officials in Maine said laboratory tests had confirmed three cases in that state, not yet included in the CDC count.

In Mexico, where the flu is believed to have originated, officials said that the disease was suspected in 159 deaths and nearly 2,500 illnesses, but signs appeared that the flu might be leveling off in its spread.

Besser said that in a normal flu season 36,000 Americans die each year from influenza or complicating illnesses. "Unfortunately, I do expect to see more deaths," he said of the current flu outbreak.

"We continue to be very aggressive in our approach and we well continue to do so," Besser said today.

Besser has had daily briefings for media and medical professionals, but has taken to the most modern methods of communication as well, including getting the message out via Twitter. "I've never Twitted, but for those who do, it's proven helpful," he said.

Sun columnist Jon Ralston contributed to this report.

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