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All 4 Arizona flu cases are children; three Phoenix schools closed

Health official: About half of state samples sent to CDC are from Pima County

Moon Mountain Elementary School students were dismissed due to a confirmed case of swine flu at the school on Wednesday in Phoenix. The elementary school student 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.

Moon Mountain Elementary School students were dismissed due to a confirmed case of swine flu at the school on Wednesday in Phoenix. The elementary school student 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.

PHOENIX – Health officials ordered two more Phoenix-area schools closed on Thursday because a student at each was confirmed to have the swine flu.

Tarwater Elementary and Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary schools in the Chandler Unified School District will be closed for seven days. An elementary school in northwest Phoenix was ordered closed on Wednesday.

The announcement came hours after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed three additional cases of swine flu in Arizona. That brought the total swine flu cases in the state to four. Since Sunday, the state has sent 44 samples to the CDC in Atlanta, and 40 are pending.

About half of those 40 pending cases are from Pima County, said Patti Woodcock, spokesperson for the Pima County Health Department.

Woodcock said she expects to know as early as Thursday afternoon whether any of the Pima County cases are confirmed as swine flu.

If cases of the virus are found in the county, then local officials will begin “active surveillance” of hospitals and clinics, Woodcock said. That means health workers will track patients’ contacts and re-trace their steps, much as they did during a spring 2008 outbreak of measles.

As they did with the measles outbreak in 2008, county health officials are urging people experiencing flu-like symptoms to call their doctors instead of going to doctors’ offices or hospital emergency rooms, potentially exposing more people, Woodcock said in a statement Thursday.

In the event of an outbreak here, the county’s allotment of antiviral medication would be used only to treat patients, not to vaccinate others, Woodcock said.

State Department of Health Services officials also learned Thursday that a 19-year-old Northern Arizona University student had a “probable” case of swine flu. NAU and the Coconino County Health Department were awaiting confirmation from the CDC. Meanwhile, the school said it will continue to operate under normal business conditions.

Maricopa County’s health director, Dr. Bob England, said none of the patients who tested positive for the flu have been hospitalized or suffered severe symptoms. All four confirmed cases were in children, and all have either recovered or are recovering.

“It isn’t going to stop there,” England said. “We have lots of testing to be done, and in the coming days we’re going to have more (confirmed cases).”

The first case was confirmed Wednesday in an 8-year-old northwest Phoenix boy. Although he had returned to school, health officials ordered his elementary school closed for a week to prevent the disease from spreading.

England said in that case, the child had not traveled to Mexico, where the flu strain was first identified.

“There was no travel history which, again, underscores my thought — that it’s here. It’s in the community. There are probably many more people infected than we realized,” England said. “Nobody’s cared about it because it hasn’t made people all that sick.”

The student whose illness prompted the closure of the second school also had recovered. The third ill student hadn’t attended school while contagious, and the fourth case is still being investigated, England said.

England and state health services department interim director Will Humble said it appears the swine flu that has spread across the nation in the past week isn’t any more severe than a normal influenza. If evidence continues to mount that that is the case, school closures could end quickly.

“We don’t do that for regular run-of-the-mill flu as you know, and as soon as we’re sure that this is no worse than regular flu we’ll stop doing it,” England said.

The CDC and officials in several states have confirmed at least 120 cases of the swine flu as of Thursday. They are in New York, Texas, California, South Carolina, Delaware and scattered cases in Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Minnesota, Colorado, Georgia and Maine.

About 36,000 people die each year in the United States from the regular flu. The U.S. has reported only one death outside Mexico from the swine flu — a Mexican toddler who visited Texas with his family.

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 covering sneezes and coughs. Patients should seek additional medical help if fever persists or spikes, breathing is difficult or other severe symptoms develop.

Officials are worried that people unnecessarily visiting hospitals or clinics could make it hard to tend to trauma patients. Dr. Jeffrey Schultz, pre-hospital director at John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix, said an increase in patients could affect the ability to care for them. Furthermore, people have been coming to the hospital to request they be tested for the flu, even if they don’t show symptoms.

“If you’re not having any of those symptoms, it’s unlikely, even if you request that test … you’d be getting that test. That wouldn’t be good health care,” Schultz said.

Arizona health officials have tested nearly 400 samples since Monday in a state lab and determined a majority of them weren’t the swine flu.

“We’re chugging them in and out,” state health department spokeswoman Laura Oxley said. “We’re prepared to go around the clock, (but) we haven’t had to do that yet.”

Oxley said the state could receive test kits by the end of the week from the CDC that will enable health officials to confirm the virus themselves.

“We are working on it,” she said. “We want to do it, and life will be a lot easier when that comes.”

Citizen staff writer Ty Bowers and the Arizona Republic contributed to this report.

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