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Officials: County may learn soon if flu is here

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

Pima County health officials could learn as early as Saturday whether any of about 20 patient samples sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention test positive for swine flu.

Samples from around the country have flooded the CDC lab in Atlanta, delaying results, according to health department spokeswoman Patti Woodcock.

Arizona has sent 56 samples to the CDC for testing. So far, only four Phoenix-area children tested positive for the virus. Three Phoenix-area schools have been closed for seven days because of the results.

Public health officials say Arizona has enough courses of antiviral medicines to respond to swine flu cases, even though the state’s stockpile of flu-treatment doses are lower than the recommended level.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that each state have enough antiviral medicine on hand to treat 25 percent of its population. But a survey by The Associated Press of all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that 29 states, including Arizona, were below that mark.

Arizona’s estimated 258,000 treatment courses of antivirals would cover about 4 percent of the state’s population.

State health department spokeswoman Laura Oxley pointed out that the treatment courses are for people who are extremely ill and aren’t intended as a way to prevent an infection.

The state was supplementing its 58,000 treatment courses with an estimated 200,000 from the federal government’s strategic reserve. The 200,000 figure represents a quarter of Arizona’s full allocation from the reserve.

State and local health officials believe they will not need to request more from the national stockpile. They anticipate a drop in illnesses as regular flu season ends and summer approaches.

Public health officials in Arizona say it appears the swine flu that has spread across the nation in the past week isn’t any more severe than normal influenza.

April McMahon kept her 14-year-old daughter, Shealan Lester, home from Tucson’s Gridley Middle School on Friday because she had 102-degree fever.

A doctor diagnosed the eighth-grader with the flu, but said the family would have to wait until next week to learn if Shealan had swine flu.

Until the results get back, “the doctor said she needs to be quarantined to her room,” McMahon said in a telephone interview.

Aside from the fever, Shealan seems fine, her mother added. “I’m not worried at all.”

In letters and in e-mail and Web site updates, education officials throughout the region have told parents that a school might close for up to seven days if a student or employee contracts swine flu.

Despite concerns of a local outbreak, most here seem calm.

Catholic churches in the area will employ a little “common sense” during Mass, according to Fred Allison, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. During flu season, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops typically advises its ministers of Holy Communion to wash their hands before Mass begins.

As of Friday afternoon, diocese officials had not urged churches to forgo communion, Allison said.

Citizen staff writer Ty Bowers contributed to this article.

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