Swine flu diagnosis made in parish

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 2, 2009

VIDALIA — Two children in Vidalia have been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.

The grandmother of the two 8-year-olds, who did not want to be identified to protect the children’s privacy, confirmed the diagnosis.

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Regional Administrator David Holcomb said it is standard protocol for his office to be notified when patients who are formally tested for H1N1, but in this case his office has not been contacted.

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The only cases of H1N1 the Centers for Disease Control has recommended formal testing for is those people sick enough to be hospitalized, Holcomb said.

“The fact that there are no recorded cases in Concordia Parish may or may not (in fact) be true,” he said.

When patients go in with flu-like symptoms, doctors may do an influenza-A or -B quick test, and Holcomb said if the test is positive for influenza-A it is presumed to be H1N1.

“If it comes up as flu-A it is presumably H1N1 because normally this time of year there are no flu cases,” he said.

It is important for the public to put the H1N1 virus in proper perspective because, while it is dangerous, it is not, in most cases, deadly, Holcomb said.

The virus seems to target children, but Holcomb said most of the fatal cases of H1N1have been adults with asthma or respiratory illness, renal failure, heart disease or other medical problems.

An estimated 33,000 people in Louisiana have been infected with H1N1 with three fatalities, and nationwide as many as 1.5 million are estimated to have had the virus, Holcomb said.

“Nationwide, there have been 560 deaths out of the probably 1.5 million infected, so the case fatality is very, very low,” he said. “(Typically) 35,000 die during normal flu season, most of those being older people who get pneumonia.”

Generally, treatment is not recommended for swine flu, with the exception of those in high risk groups, including pregnant women, children younger than 4 and those with significant underlying medical conditions, Holcomb said.

“(H1N1) scares people because it is new,” he said.

“It is a pandemic, but not all pandemics are created equal.”

One way Holcomb said the presence of H1N1 could be measured in a community is if school absentee rates are higher than 5 percent.

School Superintendent Loretta Blankenstein said the only two schools with absentee rates above 5 percent are Vidalia High School and Ferriday Junior High School.

“Some of the students have reported stomach viruses, strep throat and regular flus,” Blankenstein said.

Even without the threat of a mild pandemic, Blankenstein said the school system already encourages hygienic practices to discourage the spread of infection.

“In schools you have absences every day, and many things are contagious beyond H1N1, so we try to encourage the washing of hands and things like that as much as possible,” she said.

The district has already provided school administrators with information about how to prevent the spread of H1N1 and what to do if they believe they or a student has become ill, Blankenstein said.

“We would always prefer that a person stay home until their fever has subsided and until they are well enough to come to school,” she said.

H1N1 first surfaced in the spring. One case, a child, has been confirmed in Adams County.