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Do we have the Flu?

Officials look into two SCV flu clusters as concerns spread

Posted: April 28, 2009 10:50 p.m.
Updated: April 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.

This image taken through a microscope and provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, shows a negative-stained image of the swine flu virus.

 
An investigation into two clusters of patients with influenza-like symptoms in two Santa Clarita Valley schools was confirmed Tuesday by a county health official.

Since swine flu can only be confirmed by lab testing, it will take time to know whether the flu the students appear to be experiencing is actually swine flu, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County's Director of Public Health, told the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

"We have at this point two probable cases and two possible cases of swine flu," said Fielding.

Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Laura Young said patients currently being investigated did not go to the Valencia hospital for testing.

Two other patients were tested earlier in the week at Newhall Memorial because they exhibited flu-like symptoms, but they were "ruled out" in terms of swine flu, Young said.

Supervisors approved a motion by Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe on Tuesday to declare a local health emergency as a routine precautionary measure.

And Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in California in response to the swine flu outbreak, which originated in Mexico but has spread throughout the globe.

"The current situation of the so-called swine flu is a cause for concern, but not for alarm," Fielding said. "Given the size of Los Angeles County and traffic back and forth from Mexico, I'd be surprised if we didn't have any cases."

Although no cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Los Angeles County, public-health leaders believe it is reasonable to expect cases will be identified in the near future as a result of increased surveillance.

"It is critical for the public and media to understand that this declaration is simply a routine measure the county takes during a potential emergency," Knabe said.

"By issuing an emergency declaration, the county is positioned to quickly accept funding or assistance for the federal and state government, should cases of swine flu develop in Los Angeles County."

The number of confirmed swine flu cases in the United States climbed to 68 Tuesday, and federal officials warned that deaths are likely.

In New York, the city's health commissioner said "many hundreds" of schoolchildren were ill at a school where some students had confirmed cases.

School districts and local public agencies continued efforts to raise awareness among staff and students about proper hygiene.

At Newhall School District, parents received automated phone messages and letters from administrators informing them about swine flu and the district's efforts to curb the disease, said Karen Nelson, a Newhall School District nurse.

Along with advising students to wash their hands and avoid touching their noses and eyes, district officials increased sanitizing efforts as school sites by cleaning commonly used items like doorknobs and desktops, Nelson said.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station distributed informational fliers to its deputies Tuesday about how to stay safe from the swine flu, Lt. Brenda Cambra said.

The flier told deputies to be diligent about hand-washing and hygiene, she said.

"We were told to wash our hands often, and when we don't have access to soap to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer," Cambra said. "Anyone who has a lot of contact with the public should practice caution."

President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion in emergency funds to fight the disease.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel warning, and the outbreak prompted travelers to cancel or delay trips to Mexico.

On Tuesday Cuba became the first nation to ban all flights to its neighbor.

Princess Cruises, with its corporate headquarters in Santa Clarita, canceled cruise-ship stops at Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, Princess Cruises spokeswoman Julie Benson said Tuesday.

"This is the result of the CDC travel warning," Benson said.

Princess Cruises has six ships that are calling at Mexican ports about 22 times during the next month or so, she said.

In Chicago, traders bid down the price of pork futures Tuesday for a second straight day, reflecting what analysts say are consumer worries about catching the virus from meat.

China, Russia and South Korea have banned imports of some North American pork, despite assurances that the flu is not spread through meat.

"We have everybody ... all saying pork is safe to eat and that this isn't in the swine herd, definitely not in the U.S. swine herd," said Dave Warner of the National Pork Producers Council.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pushed to change the name of swine flu to protect the hog market.

Signal Staff Writer Brian Charles and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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