While the number of swine flu cases in the country continued to rise, officials at health departments in Erie, Sandusky, Ottawa and Huron counties said late Monday they haven’t seen any confirmed cases.
They cautioned, however, that the situation remains fluid.
Apart from the single case of swine flu confirmed Sunday in Elyria — a 9-year-old boy who had been vacationing in Mexico with family — the Ohio Department of Health had not confirmed any other cases in the state late Monday.
Huron County health officials sent two suspected swine-flu samples to the state for testing, but on Monday received negative test results, health commissioner Tim Hollinger said.
Health commissioners through-out northwest Ohio had a lengthy conference call Monday, discussing local preparedness and public-information campaigns on the issue.
They also talked with state health officials and representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have plans that are going to handle this situation,” said Pete Schade, commissioner at Erie County Health Department. “There’s a lot of stuff pending.”
Schade and other health officials said the outbreak is not considered a pandemic at this point, and they’ve continued to stay on message with the CDC and state health officials who stress that proper hygiene remains the best way to prevent contracting the virus.
Late Monday, the CDC had confirmed 40 U.S. cases of swine flu, up from the 20 confirmed cases on Sunday. All 20 new cases were in New York, putting that state’s total swine-flu case count at 28. The remaining cases in the country include one in Ohio, seven in California and two each in Kansas and Texas.
The majority of the cases outside the states are in Mexico, where the virus originated and is being blamed for the deaths of seven people so far, though Mexican officials have said the virus is responsible for upwards of 150 deaths. Other countries with confirmed cases of swine flu include Canada and Spain, according to the World Health Organization, which raised its pandemic threat level in response to the growing number of cases.
The higher phase of pandemic alert indicates the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable, Director Margaret Chan said in a statement Monday.
“It’s a very fluid situation,” said Dave Pollick, health commissioner at Sandusky County Health Department. “It’s a new strain, so only time will tell. The main thing is for us to be prepared, preparing communities and making sure staff is ready.
The regular flu vaccine given this year won’t offer any immunity to the swine virus, which is a type-A flu virus, Pollick said. Local health providers can conduct nasal swabs to check if a person with flu-like symptoms has a type-A virus. If they do, the test is sent to the state to see if it’s swine flu, Pollick said.
There’s a 24-hour turnaround to get results from tests that are sent to the state, so local officials are trying to be proactive as they wait to see how the situation pans out. Health officials are generally recommending that people who fall ill with flu-like symptoms stay home from work.
Ottawa County Health Department Commissioner Nancy Osborn said her department has not sent any flu samples to the state for testing. She also said officials in Wood County sent at least one sample to the state for testing, though Wood County Health Department’s spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment.
Wood County is home to Bowling Green State University.
“We haven’t had any cases,” said Bonnie Blankenship, a BGSU spokesperson. “We’re trying to be proactive and help people avoid it. So far, so good.”
The school sent a letter to staff and students, advising them of the virus and encouraging them to contact a doctor if they feel ill.
Dr. Michael Blank, an infectious disease physician at Firelands Regional Medical Center, said anyone who exhibits flu-like symptoms should visit a doctor or go to an emergency room. Medical providers at Firelands hospital emergency room are being instructed to triage anyone who exhibits symptoms of the swine flu and provide them isolation as needed.
“We’ve already instituted practices in case someone does come in the emergency room and there’s suspicions of this infection,” Blank said. “Right now, cough control and good hand hygiene is what’s being recommended.”
The virus can be spread through germs projected when a person coughs, or by touching surface areas or objects that have the virus on them. Frequent hand-washing and sound sanitary practices are the best course of action to avoid the virus, health officials said.