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Four flu samples from Arizona to be tested for swine strain

PHOENIX – Four flu samples have been sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tests that will determine if they are the swine flu strain first identified last week in Mexico, an Arizona Department of Health Services spokeswoman said Tuesday.

State health workers expected to find out Wednesday if at least one of the samples is positive for the strain that has raced around the world in recent days, spokeswoman Laura Oxley said. The other three tests were sent only Tuesday morning, and the CDC estimated it could take as long as 24 hours to determine the results of a sample.

Oxley did not know details about the patients, and said sending unidentified samples to the CDC throughout the flu season is a routine practice. Officials are urging doctors and health care providers to conduct a nasal swab test in suspected flu cases.

The tests could confirm if the swine flu strain is already in Arizona. CDC officials in Atlanta said Tuesday that the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. has jumped to 64 and states said there are at least four more. So far, the cases are still in the five states where they previously were reported, with 45 in New York City, 10 in California, six in Texas, two in Kansas and one in Ohio.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne recommended Tuesday that individual schools be closed if a teacher or student is diagnosed with the flu strain. He said in a memo to school officials that the policy could help stop the spread of the virus.

Horne also urged educators to, first, encourage students and staff with symptoms to stay home and, second, continue to promote proper hygiene, including frequent hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes.

Gov. Jan Brewer convened a team of administrators late Monday to review preparedness plans in the event cases pop up in Arizona.

State officials have about 36,000 doses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu on hand, not including doses that are commercially available. Additional supplies from federal stockpiles are expected to arrive in the state, Oxley said.

Hospitals throughout the state have been reviewing preparedness plans for a flu pandemic.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the emergency rooms at Tucson Medical Center and University Medical Center had not experienced increases in the number of patients coming in with flu-like symptoms, officials said.

At least three area drug stores on Tuesday had sold out of surgical masks.

The Pima County Health Department continues monitoring cases of swine flu nationwide, spokeswoman Patti Woodcock said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. Health officials rely on hospitals and clinics to report instances of patients complaining of flulike symptoms who also have traveled to areas with confirmed swine flu cases.

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