Human swine flu confirmed in Indiana

A lab researcher works on a general bacteria test at the microbiology laboratory in Queen Marry Hospital in Hong Kong Tuesday, April 28, 2009. (AP)
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The state is awaiting results in 30 more possible cases.  Indiana health officials are asking people with symptoms to stay home.
 
Indianapolis - A case of human swine flu has been confirmed in northern Indiana, the Indiana State Department of Health commissioner announced Tuesday.

The flu was detected in a student at the University of Notre Dame in St. Joseph County. In a statement released Tuesday, the university said the student has fully recovered and is in good health after suffering flu symptoms and becoming ill last week.

According to the university, the student health center sent a sample from the sick student to the Indiana Dept. of Health. Tests revealed the sample was atypical for Influenza A, indicating that it was human swine flu. The CDC confirmed that.

The university says its health services staff members are collaborating with local and state public health officials to identify the student's close contacts.

Health officials at the university still don't know how the student contracted the flu. Commissioner Dr. Judith Monroe said the patient had no "readily identifiable link to Mexico," which is currently dealing with over 2,000 cases and 150 deaths from the disease. There are currently less than 100 confirmed cases in the United States, and as of Tuesday, no deaths from the illness had been reported in the US. (See an updated list of US cases here.)

Health and Homeland Security officials briefed Gov. Mitch Daniels Tuesday morning on pre-existing plans intended to prevent a pandemic, a widespread outbreak of the virus. Homeland Security activated its Emergency Operations Center at 8:00 am. The state's emergency command center is now operating to coordinate the response and sharing of critical information.

Dr. Monroe said that health officials had been expecting additional cases to be identified across the United States. She added that an epidemiological investigation was underway.

Health officials say they expect the virus to spread, but Dr. Monroe said, "The good news is so far is that in the United States we are not seeing severe illness" with the exception of one individual who had other health problems and had to be hospitalized.

Wednesday, the Marion County Health Department will meet with local health care providers and schools "so as cases are occuring we can identify them early as opposed to later after the effect a lot of people," said Dr. Virginia Caine, director, MCHD.

Stop the bug from spreading

Dr. Monroe reminds the public to follow basic precautionary measures to prevent the spread of a cold, influenza, or any infectious disease, including:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve, rather than your hands, if a tissue is not available.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• If you get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

Symptoms

If you experience flu-like symptoms, you're asked to stay home and call your health care provider to report it. Dr. Monroe said people with mild illness should stay home for at least seven days to avoid spreading it.

The symptoms of North American human influenza A (H1N1) are similar to the symptoms of regular seasonal influenza and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people have also reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

If symptoms become severe, such as high fever, trouble breathing, or inability to keep down fluids, they should seek medical care.

Parents are also reminded they should not give aspirin to children with flu symptoms to alleviate fever, as it can put them at risk for Reye syndrome, a potentially fatal disease that causes numerous detrimental effects to many organs, especially the brain and liver.

Swine flu hotline

Marion County has set up a hotline. Call 317-221-3366 with questions. The number is open from 5-7 Tuesday and 7am-7pm for the rest of the week.

Also, Indiana state officials have set up a toll-free hotline for questions on the North American Human Influenza A (H1N1). The number is 877-826-0011 and will be open from 8:00 a.m. - 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Questions and answers about swine flu:

Note: See the CDC's swine flu page for additional information.

Q: How do I protect myself and my family?

A: For now, take commonsense precautions. Cover your coughs and sneezes, with a tissue that you throw away or by sneezing into your elbow rather than your hand. Wash hands frequently; if soap and water aren't available, hand gels can substitute. Stay home if you're sick and keep children home from school if they are.

Q: How easy is it to catch this virus?

A: Scientists don't yet know if it takes fairly close or prolonged contact with someone who's sick, or if it's more easily spread. But in general, flu viruses spread through uncovered coughs and sneezes or - and this is important - by touching your mouth or nose with unwashed hands. Flu viruses can live on surfaces for several hours, like a doorknob just touched by someone who sneezed into his hand.

Q: In Mexico, officials are handing out face masks. Do I need one?

A: The CDC says there's not good evidence that masks really help outside of health care settings. It's safer just to avoid close contact with someone who's sick and avoid crowded gatherings in places where swine flu is known to be spreading. But if you can't do that, CDC guidelines say it's OK to consider a mask - just don't let it substitute for good precautions.

Q: Is swine flu treatable?

A: Yes, with the flu drugs Tamiflu or Relenza, but not with two older flu medications.

Q: Is there enough?

A: Yes. The federal government has stockpiled enough of the drugs to treat 50 million people, and many states have additional stocks. As a precaution, the CDC has shipped a quarter of that supply to the states to keep on hand just in case the virus starts spreading more than it has so far.

Q: Should I take Tamiflu as a precaution if I'm not sick yet?

A: No. "What are you going to do with it, use it when you get a sniffle?" asks Dr. Marc Siegel of New York University Langone Medical Center and author of "Bird Flu: Everything you Need To Know About The Next Pandemic." Overusing antiviral drugs can help germs become resistant to them.

Q: How big is my risk?

A: For most people, very low. Outside of Mexico, so far clusters of illnesses seem related to Mexican travel. New York City's cluster, for instance, consists of students and family members at one school where some students came back ill from spring break in Mexico.

Q: Why are people dying in Mexico and not here?

A: That's a mystery. First, understand that no one really knows just how many people in Mexico are dying of this flu strain, or how many have it. Only a fraction of the suspected deaths have been tested and confirmed as swine flu, and some initially suspected cases were caused by something else.

Q: Should I cancel my planned trip to Mexico?

A: The U.S. did issue a travel advisory Monday discouraging nonessential travel there.

Q: What else is the U.S., or anyone else, doing to try to stop this virus?

A: The U.S. is beginning limited screening of travelers from Mexico, so that the obviously sick can be sent for treatment. Other governments have issued their own travel warnings and restrictions. Mexico is taking the biggest steps, closings that limit most crowded gatherings. In the U.S., communities with clusters of illness also may limit contact - New York closed the affected school for a few days, for example - so stay tuned to hear if your area eventually is affected.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: They're similar to regular human flu - a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also have diarrhea and vomiting.

Q: How do I know if I should see a doctor? Maybe my symptoms are from something else - like pollen?

A: Health authorities say if you live in places where swine flu cases have been confirmed, or you recently traveled to Mexico, and you have flulike symptoms, ask your doctor if you need treatment or to be tested. Allergies won't cause a fever. And run-of-the-mill stomach bugs won't be accompanied by respiratory symptoms, notes Dr. Wayne Reynolds of Newport News, Va., spokesman for the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Q: Is there a vaccine to prevent this new infection?

A: No. And CDC's initial testing suggests that last winter's flu shot didn't offer any cross-protection.

Q: How long would it take to produce a vaccine?

A: A few months. The CDC has created what's called "seed stock" of the new virus that manufacturers would need to start production. But the government hasn't yet decided if the outbreak is bad enough to order that.

Q: What is swine flu?

A: Pigs spread their own strains of influenza and every so often people catch one, usually after contact with the animals. This new strain is a mix of pig viruses with some human and bird viruses. Unlike more typical swine flu, it is spreading person-to-person. A 1976 outbreak of another unusual swine flu at Fort Dix, N.J., prompted a problematic mass vaccination campaign, but that time the flu fizzled out.

Q: So is it safe to eat pork?

A: Yes. Swine influenza viruses don't spread through food.

Q: And whatever happened to bird flu? Wasn't that supposed to be the next pandemic?

A: Specialists have long warned that the issue is a never-before-seen strain that people have little if any natural immunity to, regardless of whether it seems to originate from a bird or a pig. Bird flu hasn't gone away; scientists are tracking it, too.