The World Health Organization is calling the outbreak of a new strain of swine flu, a variation of an H1N1 virus, a public health emergency. According to the most recent numbers from CNN, 40 cases have been reported so far in the U.S., though none are in Virginia.
Governor Tim Kaine announced Monday that despite the lack of cases here the health commissioner, Karen Remley, is declaring a public health emergency. That will give her more tools to coordinate any necessary response, including access to the state’s database for all licensed health care providers so that information can be more effectively and widely communicated.
The state is also extending and enhancing its seasonal flu tracking program to ensure that any confirmed cases are promptly reported and tracked.
“We have been planning for a situation like this for many years,” Kaine said. “We have a surveillance system in place that is closely tracking reports of influenza-type illnesses, our state laboratory is prepared to quickly conduct and report tests on suspected cases and we currently have some 770,000 courses of antiviral medication in our stockpile and will be receiving an additional 280,000 courses from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control within a week.”
The Centers for Disease Control has activated its emergency operations center to help control the outbreak of this new flu, a combination of pig, bird and human influenza virus, which was first identified in Mexico. They’re sending staff around the country and also abroad to offer guidance and technical support. The WHO is doing the same.
So far, cases of the new strain have been reported in 19 of Mexico’s 32 states. Mexican health officials say that over a hundred people have died of the virus, and the country closed all its schools Monday to reduce the spread of the virus.
The reported U.S. cases have been in California, Kansas, New York City, Ohio and Texas, according to the most recent CDC report.
Though no cases have been reported in Virginia, director of the Virginia Department of Health David Trump says that state and local pandemic influenza response teams have been activated. Hospitals and clinicians are aware of the new strain and know to test for it in patients exhibiting symptoms. Test results are reported immediately to state officials.
“We’re actively looking for possible cases,” says Trump, “and this situation will be evolving quickly. We’ll share more information as we learn more.”
According to the World Health Organization, the swine flu in various forms has been transmissible to humans who work with pigs. The trouble comes when the strain mutates to a new form and becomes more easily transmitted between people.
A pandemic, which is a sudden outbreak of disease that becomes very widespread, is a risk with this strain of flu because “most people…do not have immunity to swine influenza,” according to the WHO. “If a swine virus establishes efficient human-to-human transmission, it can cause a pandemic. The impact is difficult to predict.”
Symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of seasonal flu and typically include fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and runny nose. Additional symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, headache, chills and fatigue.
According to Remley, many Virginians traveled to Mexico for spring break. “If you have been back in the U.S. for at least a week and are not already ill, it is very unlikely that you will develop swine flu from that exposure,” she says. “If you have symptoms of flu and have traveled to this and other areas where swine flu has been identified stay home and call your local health care provider or health department.”
Lab testing has found that the virus is susceptible to antiviral drugs.