Two swine flu cases reported in state

Published 11:26 pm Thursday, April 30, 2009

Virginia health officials confirmed the first two cases of swine flu in the state on Thursday evening.

The patients, an adult male from eastern Virginia and an adult female from the central part of the state, are recovering well from minor bouts of the illness, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Both patients traveled to Mexico in recent weeks. Neither case required hospitalization. The agency has a policy that prohibits it from identifying the city or county in which a patient suffering from a communicable disease resides, in order to maximize patient privacy.

State Health Commissioner Karen Remley said it is likely Virginia will see additional cases, based on the state’s population, seasonal travel patterns and the ease with which the virus is spread.

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As of Thursday morning, 109 cases of swine flu have been reported in the United States, including one that resulted in the death of a toddler in Texas. That number does not include the Virginia cases, or any others that were reported to the Centers for Disease Control after 10:30 a.m. yesterday.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that cause regular outbreaks in pigs. Humans do not normally get swine flu, but human infections do happen. Most human infections of swine flu, however, do not get spread from one person to another.

However, a recent outbreak believed to have started in Mexico has spread to the United States and several other countries.

Health officials are urging people not to panic and to take everyday precautions against getting sick and infecting others.

“I really want to stress that people shouldn’t panic,” said Lisa McCoy, the director of the Western Tidewater Health Department. “We have been planning for this type of situation for a very long time.”

Symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of human flu, and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people report having diarrhea and vomiting. The illness can exacerbate chronic medical conditions.

The swine flu virus is spread from person to person mainly through coughing or sneezing. People can become infected by touching something with the virus on it and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes. The virus is not spread through eating pork that has been properly handled and prepared.

Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said the division is emphasizing precautionary measures among its students and faculty.

“Mostly, right now, we’re on standby, waiting to hear from the department of health on any … local cases,” Bradshaw said.

Nurses have visited elementary-school classrooms to re-emphasize hand-washing techniques and the importance of covering a cough or sneeze. Custodial staff has been reminded to take extra time to clean surfaces.

“We’re just in a guarded state right now,” Bradshaw said.

The virus can be treated with two medications, marketed as Tamiflu and Relenza. The treatments are available as pills, liquids or inhalants, and are effective if taken within 48 hours of getting sick. Virginia currently has a stockpile of about a million individual treatments of the medications and is in the process of getting more, according to Mark Levine, Virginia Department of Health Deputy Commissioner for Emergency Preparedness. Virginia has about 7.1 million residents.

“We’re preparing just in case it were to get worse,” Levine said. “We don’t know it will.”

Levine said that people should practice everyday precautions against getting sick, including washing hands with soap and hot water (or using an alcohol-based hand cleanser, if soap and water are not available), trying to stay in good general health, getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food.

People should try not to touch surfaces that may be contaminated, avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth, and avoid close contact with people who are sick. Everyone should cover their cough or sneeze with a tissue, dispose of the tissue in the trash immediately and wash their hands afterward.

People with swine flu should be considered potentially contagious as long as they have symptoms and for seven days after getting sick. Infected people may be able to infect others a day before symptoms develop, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

People who believe they are infected with swine flu should call their doctor and discuss their symptoms, McCoy said. A doctor could be able to differentiate swine flu from a common cold or allergies over the phone, without bringing a sick person out where they could infect others, McCoy said. Those who are sick should stay home from school and work.

People who are considering traveling should check the Centers for Disease Control Web site,, for the latest updates on their destination country’s status.

Virginia residents with general questions can call the swine flu hotline, 1-877-ASK-VDH-3. The hotline will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today. Officials will make the decision to extend, reduce or cancel the hotline’s hours beyond today based on the number of calls.