Washington’s “Swine Flu Six”

I’ll offer a few posts here, shortly. First, for those of you craving detail during these anxious times, here is full text of the radio stories for KPLU:

Version one:  Six Local Cases of Swine Flu Called “Probable”

The swine flu outbreak has officially reached Washington state. Last night, the state health department announced it’s identified six people as probable cases. They’re in Seattle, Snohomish County and Spokane. More from KPLU science and health reporter Keith Seinfeld:

We have the most details about the three from Seattle. They include:

A 33-year-old female doctor, whose husband and two children are also likely infected. They’re being treated at home.

A 27-year-old single man is at home.

And an 11-year-old boy has been hospitalized but is recovering. The boy’s school is Madrona, and it is staying open because the boy did not come to school at all after he became sick over the weekend.closed for a week. UPDATE – The decision was made early Thursday morning, after public health officials determined the boy may have been contagious last Friday when he was in School.   Washington Secretary of Health Mary Selecky says this all sounds alarming:

“The reason we’re being very cautious is because this is a brand new virus, and as a result there really isn’t any immunity in the population. So, we want to prevent it from spreading.”

Public health is especially on the lookout for how easily the virus spreads, and how severe the flu is once people get it. Dozens more possible cases are in early testing stages. The best way to keep it from transferring the flu, she says, is to stay home if you’re sick, cover your cough, and wash your hands. If you don’t have enough sick days? That policy, she says, is up to each employer. Keith Seinfeld, KPLU news.

More:

  • In Snohomish County, the public health department wasn’t able to get any details, as of Wednesday night, about a 6-year-old 3-year-old boy or a 34-year-old woman who are probable cases.
  • None of Washington’s six probable cases appears to have involved travel to Mexico.
  • So far, about 95-percent of the cases labeled probable by different states have proven positive at the federal labs in Atlanta. But it may take several days to get results for Washington.

Version Two: Probable cases of Swine flu in Washington

Six people in Washington are now considered to “probably” have swine flu, according to the state Department of Health. All six are recovering. Also one woman in Victoria, B.C., has confirmed she caught the swine flu while on vacation in Mexico. More details now from KPLU science and health reporter Keith Seinfeld:

Just a few hours after saying there’s no sign of any swine flu in Washington, the state health department got results from a new batch of tests. Six people have a strain of flu that is probably the new strain of swine flu – and their samples have been flown to the federal laboratory in Atlanta for confirmation.

Of the six, three are from Seattle, two from Snohomish County and one from Spokane. An 11-year-old boy in Seattle and a six-year-old boy in Snohomish were the only children. The Seattle boy’s mother is being praised for keeping him home – so his school, Madrona, won’t have to be closed. UPDATE – But Madrona was closed Thursday, for a week, because it turns out he may have been contagious last Friday when he was in School.  Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief epidemiologist for King County, spoke at a Wednesday evening news conference televised on northwest cable news.

“You shouldn’t go to school when you are sick.  You shouldn’t go to school if you have a fever or are coughing, all around the community, because if this virus has made its way to Washington state, the way to prevent it from spreading is by keeping away from one another when we’re ill.”

The Seattle boy has been hospitalized since Tuesday, with a fever and shortness of breath, but now is in good condition. None of the others required hospitalization. One case is a 33-year-old doctor from Seattle. She and her famly are being treated, but it’s not clear yet if she may have exposed others.

Public health officials say, you should expect to see more cases in Seattle and all over Washington, as more people are tested. Results from the federal labs may take several days. Keith Seinfeld, KPLU news.

More:

  • A shipment of anti-viral medicines is en route to Washington, to add to the state’s stockpile, in case the outbreak becomes an epidemic.
  • Seattle has activated its Emergency Operations Center, at the lowest alert level, to be ready should the situation change suddenly.
  • The advice to the public remains, stay home if you’re sick, wash your hands and cover your cough.
Advertisements

Swine flu, without Mexico

I may be gloriously wrong on this.  But, Ill go out on a limb and suggest the possibility that this H1N1 swine flu has been in Washington state, and other states as well, for quite a while.  I won’t be surprised if it turns out that many people who suffered a flu or flu-like illness over the past month actually had this strain.

And last night’s announcement of Washington’s first six “probable” cases (see this post) added some support.  I was told by both the state Department of Health and King County’s public health officials that none of the six people who harbor the suspected virus has any connection to Mexico. They didn’t travel there, nor did they contact anyone who recently did.

In fact, in King County, the three cases only came to light because they bypassed the health department.  Why?  Because the health department was only agreeing to test samples that met the criteria of severe flu symptoms PLUS some connection to Mexico.  These three, then, were tested by independent clinical laboratories, and then forwarded to the state when they proved to be a Type-A influenza virus.

(One of those labs was at the University of Washington, and I’m still trying to learn about the other two, as well as the cases in Snohomish and Spokane.)

If they had no connection to Mexico, and they caught it locally, then this suggests that there was a good-sized reservoir of infected people in Seattle by the end of last week.  It still may have come from Mexico, but perhaps  a month ago, or longer.

Swine flu, the mystery

Everyone’s talking about swine flu. Every major news organization has done a decent job covering the basics. Here are a few extras, based on what I’ve learned so far:

  • We won’t know for a week or longer if this is indeed a serious pandemic or not. The information from Mexico is still too incomplete to tell us if the flu there is killing an unusual number of healthy young adults. It appears to be unusal, and that’s what has public health leaders around the world worried. But that appearance may prove false, once we get more data. They’re handling it with “an abundance of caution,” says King County’s chief epidemiologist Jeff Duchin. (For example, they may not be getting an accurate measure of how many people are infected with mild cases of swine flu, and that number is key to telling you what percentage are severe cases.)
  • In British Columbia, two cases of swine flu were confirmed over the weekend. Both were men who were returning from Mexico. Both cases were considered “mild” (in which case, I’m not sure how they were detected).
  • It would take six months or longer to create a vaccine. In the meantime, for those who do get sick, a drug called Tamiflu can effectively treat the disease. A stockpile is on hand, in King County and elsewhere, to deliver Tamiflu in the event this does become a major epidemic. The stockpile would be used primarily for police, fire and medical workers.
  • “What should I do?” In most cases, nothing. Public health officials say, if you are sick enough that you think you need medical attention, then call your doctor’s office. But, don’t just show up. And if you’re mildly ill and wouldn’t normally seek medical attention, then don’t seek it now. (But do take the usual precautions, such as covering your coughs, handwashing, etc.)

Science stimulus

After a month investigating, or at least poking around on, the topic of stimulus money coming to the greater Seattle area, I had trouble finding any great stories.

Yes, as I reported on KPLU, there’s money to clean-up diesel pollution around the ports.  And, there’s a decent chunk of funding for Community Health Centers (which serve low-income and uninsured people).  And, as Sandy Doughton reported, faculty at the U.W. will get plenty of additional NIH research funding.

But, I was looking for the big legacy projects, something akin to the fine parks structures built by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.  As I said in my clinics story, the federal stimulus money is “more of a cushion to soften the crash,” than a spark to create something new.

Maybe the U.W. will build a great new science lab that was only a pipe dream before.

Other beat reporters at KPLU have found similar tales when it comes to stimulus money and public housing, and public schools.  In order to get the money spent quickly, it is paying for projects that were already planned and would have happened anyway, eventually.  The stimulus makes them happen more quickly.  Or else, instead of creating jobs, it’s preserving work that would have been eliminated by budget cuts elsewhere.

I’m not saying it’s bad to preserve jobs from the chopping block, or speed up a construction schedule.  It just makes it hard a decade from now to point to something and say, That’s the legacy of what the federal government did during the Great Recession.