By Miriam Raftery
ECM intern Marissa Kerizan also contributed to this story.
April 25, 2009 (San Diego)—The Center for Disease Control has found that swine flu virus strains in San Diego match samples of a virus that has killed 81 people and sickened over 1,300 in Mexico. In Mexico City, where the majority of cases occurred, all public events have been suspended. Schools, museums, theaters and libraries there have been closed to halt spread of the disease.
Twenty confirmed cases in the U.S., including four in San Diego, have raised concerns among public health officials locally and nationally. Cases have also been confirmed in Mexicali near the border, in other cities in Mexico, in Imperial County, California, Texas, Kansas and most recently, eight students at a New York school where 75 people became ill.
“We do not know whether this swine flu virus or some other influenza virus will lead to the next pandemic,” said Dr. Ricahrd Besser, acting director of the Center for Disease Control. “However, scientists around the world continue to monitor the virus,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “This is something we are worried about and we are treating seriously.”
The CDC is working with the World Health Organization (WHO), which has dispatched experts to Mexico to work with health authorities on diagnosis and disease management. At the San Ysidro and Otay border crossings, U.S customs officials have been given masks to wear if they wish. The border remains open and no travel restrictions have been imposed.
Swine flu is a respiratory disease that originated in pigs but is now believed to be being transmitted person-to-person. The illness can also be spread through contact with infected pigs, but cannot be caught by eating pork. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea.
None of the San Diego cases were treated in East County hospitals, ECM has confirmed. But health officials have not disclosed where patients live or work. that While all four people treated in San Diego with the disease have recovered, the illness can lead to fatalities from complications such as pneumonia.
Although there is not yet a vaccine, this strain of swine influenza found locally can be treated with oseltamivir or zanamivir, antiviral drugs that can make illness milder, speed healing and prevent serious complications. The medications work best if started within two days after symptoms first appear. The disease remains contagious for seven days or longer.
"We have heightened our surveillance and put area healthcare providers on alert. This will most likely generate additional cases of human infection with swine influenza," said County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten.
San Diego County health officials urge people with influenza-like symptoms to contact their healthcare providers, and offer this added advice. If you are sick, stay home and avoid contact with other people. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and discard tissue after use. Wash hands with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
Emergency warning signs that need emergency medical care include:
Trouble breathing or fast breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking enough fluids, not waking up or not interacting, being too irritable to be held, flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough, or fever with a rash.
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting.
For more details, call San Diego County’s Swine Influenza Information Line at (858)715-2250, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/swine or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.