The Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced that as of April 27, there have been 11 confirmed cases in California of humans infected with a new influenza virus, bringing the national total to 44. The virus, identified as an H1N1 Swine Influenza Type A virus, was the subject of a press conference held today by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to discuss what is being done to prepare for the possibility of a local outbreak.
The virus is a brand new strain that humans haven’t experienced before and therefore have no immunity to it. Unlike other swine influenzas, this one is readily transmitted from human to human. The CDC is still investigating the nature of the disease as well as where the virus is being seen, who infected people were in contact with, how they may have been exposed, and any possible connections between them. CDC staff is regularly updating this information at the official Web site. Investigators know that this affliction is a respiratory virus, meaning it is spread through coughs, sneezes, and contact to the mouth or eyes. Symptoms are similar to those of regular human seasonal influenza.
Laboratories on the national, state, and local level are currently engaged in detection and surveillance for any patient that meets CDC’s definitions for symptoms, exposure, or areas of high infection. In the press conference, Dr. Elliot Schulman said that Dr. Frank Alvarez, the deputy health officer, will be active in informing the community while Michele Mickiewicz, the deputy director for the Community Health Division, will be in charge of making sure public information is up-to-date and accurate.
Schulman noted that of the four known anti-viral medications used to treat influenza, two of them, Oseltamivir and Zanamivir, seem to be effective in treating the new strain. The Public Health Department has already contacted a supply network to have some of vaccines on hand, and has tested a system to ensure more can be rapidly delivered in case of a local outbreak. Nancy Lapolla, the director for Emergency Medical Services (EMS), is working with EMS providers on how to handle symptomatic patients and how to recognize someone who may be infected. “We are in constant contact with the California Department for Public Health and the CDC,” said Schulman in the press conference, “and they have set up a very good way for getting in touch with us.”
The Public Health Department agrees with President Barack Obama’s statement to be alert, take precautions if traveling in areas where infections occurred, but not to panic. In a normal year, 36,000 Americans die from regular flu, said Schulman at the press conference, and all cases of the new swine flu so far have are mild and people are already recovering. There are not sufficient cases to warrant issuing travel advisories or begin closing schools. “At this time, no cases are suspected or confirmed in Santa Barbara County or neighboring counties of Ventura or San Luis Obispo.” The department reminds people to wash their hands, cover their coughs and sneezes, and to stay home from work and school if they are sick in order to prevent the spread of influenza and other respiratory diseases.
The Public Health Department has established a phone line, 1 (888) 722-6358, where the public can get updated information in both English and Spanish. Information is also available at the County Public Health Web site.
Staff will release new information every morning at 11 a.m. to reflect overnight changes in the situation, and every afternoon at 4 p.m. to update the public on their meetings with Public Health Departments on the state and national levels.