6 Likely Swine Flu Cases In Maryland

Federal Officials Confirm 91 Infections In 11 States

April 30, 2009|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,stephanie.desmon@baltsun.com

State officials said Wednesday that they had identified six probable cases of the swine flu in Maryland - including in two school-age children - as the World Health Organization signaled a pandemic is imminent and federal health authorities said there were 91 confirmed cases of the virus spread across 11 other states.

None of those sickened in Maryland has been hospitalized, and all had links to people who had traveled to Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak, or other countries where there have been swine flu cases, Gov. Martin O'Malley said.

The schools attended by the two children - Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park and Milford Mill Academy in southwestern Baltimore County - are not being closed, and there is no fear at this time that the virus has spread to other students.

Still, the six likely cases in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties - which are expected to be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday - are probably not the last, officials said. The state is testing at least a half-dozen more specimens from people with flu-like symptoms and links to countries where there has been flu, so the numbers could climb.

In Washington on her first day on the job, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters: "While we still don't know what this virus will do, we expect to see more cases, more hospitalizations and, unfortunately, we are likely to see additional deaths from the outbreak."

WHO has confirmed human cases of swine flu in countries including Mexico, the United States, Canada, Britain, Israel, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and Austria.

In Mexico, the disease is confirmed or suspected in 159 deaths and nearly 2,500 illnesses. All nonessential services at government offices and private businesses were suspended. The first U.S. death was announced, a toddler from Mexico visiting Texas. The disease is a new one, a hybrid that is parts bird, pig and human viruses. Experts say people are vulnerable to the virus because their bodies have never been exposed to it, and health officials don't know how it will behave and how deadly it might become.

Parents at Milford Mill were notified in a letter Wednesday about the probable swine flu cases; Folger McKinsey parents were informed through the school's phone notification system. Since neither of the two sickened students has been in school since Friday - and there has not been increased absenteeism at the schools - health and school officials determined the best course of action was to keep the schools open.

"The student, who is now recovering, has not been severely ill or hospitalized," wrote Milford Mill Principal Nathaniel Gibson. "The student has been at home for the entire duration of the student's illness."

Bob Mosier, spokesman for Anne Arundel County schools, said taking precautions is key. Cleaning crews were brought in Wednesday to disinfect all of Folger McKinsey, he said.

Three of the probable cases are in Baltimore County and three in Anne Arundel. Frances Phillips, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said two of the Baltimore County cases are relatives who had a family member who traveled to Mexico. The third person had traveled to the Caribbean.

In Anne Arundel County, all three who are sick are members of the same family. None of them traveled to Mexico, but another member of the household did. Dr. David S. Blythe, the state's epidemiologist, said it is likely that the traveler had the flu and passed it on before recovering.

The virus has not been found in anyone not in contact with someone who had been abroad, he said.

People with a fever over 100 degrees along with cough or sore throat should contact their doctors, he said. And, of course, officials reminded everyone to wash their hands, a mantra these days.

The new cases reported by the CDC Wednesday morning added Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Indiana and Massachusetts to a list that included New York, California, Kansas, Ohio and Texas. State officials in Maine said laboratory tests had confirmed three cases there, not yet included in the CDC count.

"These numbers are almost out of date by the time I say them," Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, told reporters.

Officials have advised against nonessential travel to Mexico, but Besser said the United States has no plans to close the borders. The Border Patrol is on the lookout for sick people and is handing out cards with the warning signs of the flu on them, he said, but closing the borders won't work to stop its spread.

Countries were taking sometimes drastic measures as the flu spread.

Egypt ordered the slaughter of 300,000 pigs, even though it hasn't had a single case of swine flu and there is no evidence that pigs have spread the disease. Britain, with only five cases, is trying to buy 32 million masks. At airports from Japan to South Korea to Greece and Turkey, thermal cameras were trained on airline passengers to see if any were feverish. And Lebanon discouraged traditional Arab peck-on-the-cheek greetings, even though no one has come down with the virus there.

As some health officials are charting the path of this swine flu, others are working to develop a vaccine that could protect against it. Scientists are growing a seed stock of the virus in laboratories that can be used to manufacture a vaccine that is safe and effective against this new strain of influenza.

Baltimore Sun reporter Arin Gencer and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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