Phoenix elementary student has recovered but school is closed
PHOENIX – A northwest Phoenix elementary school student on Wednesday became the first person in Arizona confirmed to have the swine flu, but the 8-year-old boy has already recovered from the illness and never required hospitalization.
Nonetheless, his 800-student school was ordered closed for a week on Wednesday to prevent other students from coming down with the new strain of influenza.
“We are taking aggressive measures . . . because this is a new virus and until we know more about it and are certain we know it, we will do what we can to limit its spread,” Dr. Bob England, Maricopa County’s health director, said at a news conference.
But England said it appears that this flu is no more virulent than other types. He said the boy recovered and had returned to school before the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed he had swine flu.
England said it was too soon to know details about how the boy might have been exposed. “I don’t think it matters,” he said. “The horse is out of the barn.”
Health officials said people should treat the swine flu strain like any other flu – contact your personal doctor, and avoid spreading the virus by staying home and by covering sneezes and coughs. Patients should seek additional medical help if fever persists or spikes, breathing is difficult or other severe symptoms develop.
The Arizona case brings to 11 the number of states with swine flu cases. Besides Arizona, they are New York, Texas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio and Maine.
State officials in Maine said laboratory tests had confirmed three cases in that state, not yet included in the CDC count.
The CDC said tests confirmed the case from one of four samples Arizona sent on Monday and Tuesday.
Results of tests on the three other possible Arizona cases, also from Maricopa County, were expected soon.
“I’m certain this is isn’t going to be the last case,” England said.
None of the four patients who either tested positive for swine flu or potentially had the virus required hospitalization, state health department spokeswoman Laura Oxley said.
Acting CDC director Dr. Richard Besser said only five cases nationwide needed hospitalization, including a Mexican toddler who became the first death recorded in the U.S., in Texas.
The Maricopa County Health Department requested the school closure in Phoenix when the diagnosis was confirmed by federal health officials, Washington Elementary School District spokeswoman Carol Donaldson said.
Moon Mountain Elementary School was closed just after noon Wednesday and its students won’t be returning until May 7.
Gov. Jan Brewer expressed confidence in the state’s ability to handle the situation.
“We have plenty of resources. We have a plan,” she said.
Will Humble, state Department of Health Services interim director, said the state had distributed its 58,000 medication courses to hospitals, urban care centers and other health facilities for treating patients.
The state has received more than 200,000 additional courses from the federal stockpile and was preparing to distribute them to county health departments.
“At this point we have plenty of medication,” Humble said.
England said people with flu symptoms shouldn’t “run to the doctor” unless they have trouble breathing or don’t start recovering within several days. Treat it like you would regular flu, he advised.
However, news of the disease’s spread brought a surge of people to hospitals and medical clinics across Arizona, but none of the hospitals contacted on Wednesday said they had seen severe cases.
In Yuma, about 300 worried patients came into the emergency room at Yuma Regional Medical Center on Monday and Tuesday nights. That happened even though there have been no confirmed cases in the county, or in the nearby Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California, Yuma County spokesman Kevin Tunell said Wednesday.
“It’s some of the highest numbers we’ve ever seen,” said hospital spokeswoman Machele Headington. Typically, around 100 people come into the hospital’s ER on a given night, she said.
Patti Woodcock, a spokeswoman for the Pima County Health Department, said University Physicians Hospital and Clinics in Tucson is reporting a 30 percent increase in its emergency department patients.
“We’re just hearing more that it’s the ‘worried well,’ ” Woodcock said. ” ‘Gee, I’ve had this fever, I don’t feel good. Do I have the flu?’ ”
At St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, 283 people visited the emergency room on Monday and 265 on Tuesday – an increase of 23 percent and 20 percent, respectively, said Julie Ward, vice president of nursing.
Ward said most people are seeking more information about the flu and reassurance that there isn’t a need to panic.
“People don’t know: ‘Is it in the water? Can I eat bacon?’ ” Ward said. “People who are not medically savvy need help with that.”
A spokesman for the Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, which has 11 neighborhood clinics, said there is a lot of anxiety about the swine flu.
“People are understandably concerned and are not taking any chances with their loves ones’ health,” he said.
He said pediatric and emergency rooms have been busy, with patients jammed in waiting rooms wearing masks.
“We’re at the end of the flu season, but it feels like we’re at the peak of the flu season,” he said.