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County awaits results of 11 tests for swine flu

Pima County Health Department officials were still waiting late Monday for word on whether 11 more county residents whose samples had been submitted for testing actually had swine flu, according to agency spokeswoman Patti Woodcock.

Health officials over the weekend confirmed six cases of swine flu in the county – one in Marana Unified School District; one in Tucson Unified; and four on the Tohono O’odham reservation. As of Monday afternoon, 11 additional cases had been confirmed in three other Arizona counties – nine in Maricopa, and one each in Santa Cruz and Yuma.

A total of 175 students out of 472 were absent Monday from TUSD’s Safford Engineering/Technology Magnet Middle School, 200 East 13th St. A normal day’s absence there is around 45, said TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander.

Parents of 25 students called in saying their children had flu symptoms; 16 said their children had colds, sore throats and coughs and about half a dozen had medical appointments.

Lander said another 14 students were sent home from school when it was determined they had flu symptoms and fever.

The total number of students out Monday was 189, about 40 percent of the school.

Safford also had about 60 calls from worried parents saying they were not going to send their children to school because it had a confirmed swine flu case.

Lander said she fielded one call from a parent irate that TUSD had not closed the school.

The situation was quite different at Marana’s Tortolita Middle School, 4101 W. Hardy Road.

A day after learning that a classmate had had swine flu, only 40 of the 986 students there stayed home because of their parents’ flu concerns, fewer than had been absent any day in the last week, according to district spokeswoman Tamara Crawley.

Meanwhile, hospitals were not reporting a flood of flu-fearing patients.

“We’re not seeing a big jump in the (University Medical Center) emergency department, but we are getting a lot of phone calls,” spokeswoman Katie Riley said.

“We had really no surge” Sunday or Monday, Northwest Medical Center spokeswoman Kim Chimene said Monday.

Health officials have encouraged those experiencing flu-like symptoms to call their doctors instead of going to emergency rooms and possibly spreading the virus.

Most who tested positive for swine flu here already had recovered by the time the diagnoses were made, Woodcock said. For that reason, county health officials do not plan to retrace the patients’ contacts or comb through their medical charts.

Instead, the Health Department will continue working with hospitals and clinics to monitor patients, Woodcock said. The department on Tuesday plans to release its stores of antiviral medications to hospitals.

The medicines will go only to ill patients who have been admitted or whom doctors planned to admit, Woodcock explained. Antiviral drugs would go to patients with fevers above 100 degrees and experiencing respiratory distress or other signs of infection.

State health officials said Monday that swine flu doesn’t appear to be more severe than normal flu but they cautioned that the threat isn’t over.

“It’s still the flu, and the flu kills,” said Laura Oxley, a spokeswoman for the state health department. “So we cannot say that the concern is over.”

Oxley said the number of swine flu cases in Arizona is expected to increase in coming days. Officials stressed the important thing is not the number of cases, but their severity.

Citizen Staff Writer Mary Bustamante and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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