Update: King County announces three “probable” swine-flu cases

April 29, 2009 at 8:52 pm | In Health, Swine flu | 35 Comments

ORIGINAL 8:52 PM REPORT: Hours after county health experts briefed the Seattle City Council, saying there were no known swine-flu cases here, they have announced three “probable” cases – here’s a news release we just received:

Today, three probable cases of swine influenza A (H1N1), also known as swine flu, have been identified in King County. The laboratory samples have been sent to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Public Health – Seattle & King County is awaiting final confirmation.

The CDC has determined that the swine flu virus H1N1 is contagious and is spreading from human to human. Symptoms of swine flu include a fever of more than 100°F, coughing, joint aches, severe headache and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

“Now that swine flu is likely in King County, we expect to see more infections, but it’s too early to say how severe the illnesses will be. We are working to provide needed information and assistance to these people and their families. We are also working with health care providers and community partners to prepare in the event that the situation becomes more serious,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“We’ve prepared for this day for the past four years, and now we must all do our part to reduce its spread,” said Ron Sims, King County Executive. “We encourage everyone to get prepared at home, find out about plans at your job, and take steps to protect yourself, your family and the community by staying home when you are sick, washing your hands often and covering your coughs and sneezes.”

“In the last few years, Seattle has prepared for pandemic flu. We will activate our Emergency Operations Center at the first level so our emergency operations personnel can coordinate procedures and communications,” said Greg Nickels, Seattle Mayor.

As of today, April 29, there are three probable cases of swine flu in King County, in addition to two cases in Snohomish County and one case in Spokane County.

The three King County residents with probable swine flu include:

o a male child of Seattle who was hospitalized and is improving
o a male in his 20s from Seattle, not hospitalized and improving
o a woman in her 30s from Seattle, not hospitalized and improving

Human cases of swine influenza virus infection also have been identified nationally and internationally.
When should you seek medical care?
Use the same judgment you would use during a typical flu season. Do not seek medical care if you are not ill or have mild symptoms for which you would not ordinarily seek medical care. If you have more severe symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, body aches or are feeling more seriously ill, call your health care provider to discuss your symptoms and if you need to be evaluated.

Public Health will continue to work with health care providers to test flu patients who develop severe illness or are associated with clusters, but does not currently recommend testing for all flu patients.

If the following flu-like symptoms are mild, medical attention is not typically required: runny nose or nasal stuffiness; low-grade fever for less than 3 days; mild headache; body aches and mild stomach upset.

What can I do now to get prepared?

This is an excellent time to get prepared at home and work for a possible influenza pandemic. See www.kingcounty.gov/health/swineflu

Everyday behaviors to stay healthy

o If you are sick, stay home from work or school.
o Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
o Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
o To further prevent the spread of germs, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
o Avoid close contact with sick people

What is swine flu?

“Swine flu” is an influenza A (H1N1) virus normally found in pigs. There are many such viruses and they rarely infect humans. The virus currently causing human illness is a new type of swine flu that has developed the ability to infect people and be transmitted from person to person.

Although this new virus is called “swine flu,” it is not transmitted from pigs to humans, or from eating pork products. Like other respiratory diseases, it is spread from person to person through coughs and sneezes. When people cough or sneeze, they spread germs through the air or onto surfaces that other people may touch.

For more information and frequent updates: www.kingcounty.gov/health/swineflu
Public Health Hotline: 206-296-4949

We have a message out to the Health Department to ask if they can or will be any more specific about what part of the city the Seattle patients are from. (9:18 pm addition: KING5 says one case is an 11-year-old Madrona Elementary student.) But we do want to reiterate one thing that we heard in the briefing on which we reported earlier today: Most of the U.S. cases so far have been fairly mild. This is NOT necessarily an automatically deadly/severe illness. Take the steps that authorities are counseling – but don’t panic. The county’s official swine-flu information page is here.

9:47 PM UPDATE: Also wrote this in comments – Just talked to James Apa with King County Public Health. Beyond the information about the child, which they provided because of the school aspect of the story, he says they are not going “lower than city level” in terms of descriptive information about the two patients – trying to balance privacy with public information. So for now, unless the two patients or someone close to them decides to independently inform a media outlet, there is NO info publicly available on where they are from. Also note, Seattle Public Schools is making recorded phone calls to ALL district families to let them know about the Madrona case and to reiterate that schools are open, no changes at this point – several people in comments, and on Twitter (@westseattleblog) and Facebook (WS Blog), have already reported getting those calls.

9:58 PM UPDATE: County Councilmember Julia Patterson, who chairs the county Board of Health, just sent this statement:

“Now is not the time to panic, but to use every day common sense precautions, like washing your hands regularly, covering your cough, and staying home from school or work when you are sick.

“Our public health department is one of the most prepared in the nation. They have prepared for the most severe form of this influenza, even though the cases thus far are more mild.

“I am confident that they are making every effort to reduce the spread, by educating those infected or at risk, and by keeping residents informed and protected.”

And minutes after that, a news release with a statement from West Seattle-residing County Council Chair Dow Constantine:

Metropolitan King County Council Chair Dow Constantine was present at tonight’s briefing on the suspected local swine flu cases, and has this statement:

“I’ve been briefed tonight by Public Health and I am impressed with their swift action to identify and report these suspected local cases of swine flu to the CDC for confirmation. We were briefed Monday on their plans for heightened monitoring and we are now seeing the results of that work.

“We have one of the finest public health agencies in the nation, with whom we have been making plans for an event such as this since 2006. The plans are good and I’m confident they will be well-executed.

“The best way we can all minimize the spread of infection now is by ensuring we have an educated and prepared public.”

11:14 PM UPDATE: One comment asks about how these people might have gotten the virus, if indeed they have it. That information has not been released. One is a doctor, said to have possibly seen patients on one day while she might have been contagious, and they will be notified.

8:20 AM THURSDAY: Seattle Public Schools announced this morning that Madrona (which is actually a K-8; here’s where it’s located) is closing as a precaution, till next Thursday.

35 Comments

  1. Crap. Did they say where in King County? A friend of mine lives in Alabama and there were 2 probable cases there and it closed the school district for 2 days and the school where the kids went for a week. (as of today)

    Comment by Bonnie — 8:56 pm April 29, 2009 #

  2. ‘The three King County residents with probable swine flu include:

    o a male child of Seattle who was hospitalized and is improving
    o a male in his 20s from Seattle, not hospitalized and improving
    o a woman in her 30s from Seattle, not hospitalized and improving’

    Why would they not hospitalize and contain the two other probable cases? That makes no sense to me.

    I’m not panicing, but I did a swell job of sanitizing many surfaces today…

    Comment by AD — 8:59 pm April 29, 2009 #

  3. Yeah, I saw that. Seattle is a big area.

    Comment by Bonnie — 9:00 pm April 29, 2009 #

  4. I will be trying to find out – I just got this news release – have been at an event at the UW with a journalist group (and just broke the news to them). From past similar cases, I will tell you they may decide not to be more specific, but at least we have to ask – TR

    Comment by WSB — 9:04 pm April 29, 2009 #

  5. Update – just added this to the story too – KING5 identifies one case as an 11-year-old Madrona Elementary (north end) student
    http://www.king5.com/topstories/stories/NW_042909HEB-swine-flu-kids-KS.2c1b44e.html
    Reviewing other reports … TR

    Comment by WSB — 9:19 pm April 29, 2009 #

  6. My wife just took the robo-call from Seattle Schools. They said the infected child is from Madrona Elementary and has not been at school during the time he would have been contagious. They are not doing any closures etc ut wanted to give a head’s upI guess.

    Comment by Tom — 9:40 pm April 29, 2009 #

  7. thanks, we got the location and JUST heard about the robocall. SPS is pretty proactive with its use of that device.

    Comment by WSB — 9:41 pm April 29, 2009 #

  8. Seattle School District just called (automated) to inform me that the reported Madrona student was NOT at school when he/she was infectious…I’m not so sure I believe that. Also, even if he/she wasn’t at school I’m sure the student went other places…grocery store, restaurants, public restrooms, birthday party’s, whatever or wherever.

    Comment by Near Alki — 9:44 pm April 29, 2009 #

  9. Just talked to James Apa with King County Public Health. Beyond the information about the child, which they provided because of the school aspect of the story, he says they are not going “lower than city level” in terms of descriptive information about the two patients – trying to balance privacy with public information. So for now, unless the two patients or someone close to them decides to independently inform a media outlet, there is no info available on where they are from – TR

    Comment by WSB — 9:44 pm April 29, 2009 #

  10. thanks for the heads up…

    Comment by JoB — 9:47 pm April 29, 2009 #

  11. I really can’t stand how the “who can be first to freak people out” has gotten to the media. a lot of people have worse cases from the regular flu’s and the media (case in point) likes to scare people for the sake of being first. Not to mention PATIENT PRIVACY. Leave the poor people alone… they are improving stop freaking out.

    Comment by Alexis — 10:23 pm April 29, 2009 #

  12. The most important information missing from this story: how/where were these people exposed? Did any of them travel to Mexico? I would like to know where the exposure happened. If anyone got this without leaving King County, that is a BIG shift. Also King 5 reports that one of the infected is a doctor. When health care workers start contracting an illness it’s usually a red flag that it is established in a community. It’s a game changer. Can you please ask James Apa these questions?

    Comment by Nancy — 10:40 pm April 29, 2009 #

  13. I kind of know what you’re saying Alexis. I think I heard today 16,000 people in the USA of already died this year from regular flu. I for one just worry for my children. They are normal kids, and kids are constantly doing things that can and does get them infected.

    Comment by Near Alki — 10:43 pm April 29, 2009 #

  14. We reported in coverage of the county swine-flu briefing earlier this week, the average death toll from REGULAR flu every year is about 35,000. And in today’s briefing, it was noted that most of the U.S. cases so far have been relatively mild – TR

    Comment by WSB — 11:01 pm April 29, 2009 #

  15. We’ll all die of hyperventilating before we die of swine flu.

    Comment by OP — 11:23 pm April 29, 2009 #

  16. I am a huge fan of WSB and the responsible attitude it has always shown toward local issues. Frankly, I’m surprised and disappointed at the seeming shrillness of this coverage.

    People, if we really only wash our hands and cover our coughs when there’s a “pandemic,” I’d say we have more trouble than simple headlines.

    Thanks to Alexis and Near Alki for introducing a modicum of reality here.

    Comment by charlabob — 11:32 pm April 29, 2009 #

  17. What’s shrill about reporting:
    News conference happened, here’s the news release
    We placed a followup phone call (prompted by questions asked in comments)
    .
    Here’s a statement
    .
    Here’s another statement
    .
    Pretty much just the facts, which is what we do. And we provide the full details from the official info, rather than excerpting them, so you can read for yourself.
    .
    It’s unusual for authorities to call an evening news conference about something. When they do, it’s important. The mayor was there. The county council chair was there. So we’re reporting it here, and we’re reporting everything we can share about it – TR

    Comment by WSB — 11:42 pm April 29, 2009 #

  18. There is a thin line between caution and “freaking out”. It would be better to calm those who we deem to be “freaking out” down rather than minimizing the situation. This situation is serious. The media isn’t doing the best job, but there is nothing new about that. In the end, like with any event, we have to keep an open mind and be objective with the information.

    I am a healthy 29 year old man and only five years ago I was hospitalized for a nasty bout of the flu. It was a miserable and terrifying experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. We have every right to be overly cautious. If this strain is anywhere near as bad as they say or if it will get worse than we need to be extremely cautious.

    Everyone saying “calm down” is as bad as everyone freaking out.

    Comment by seven — 11:54 pm April 29, 2009 #

  19. Last Saturday, my partner & I attended a focus group meeting on the topic of health care decisions during a disaster such as pandemic flu. It turned out to be more than timely…

    I came away from this event with the impression that we are lucky to live in an area that is so prepared as compared to other communities. It was clear that a lot of thinking, work & preparation has already been done here. I also came away with a better realization of the many complexities surrounding this issue.

    This particular strain of flu could turn out to be quite mild & may seem like a non-event in hindsight. It could also be much more terrible than we might now imagine.

    I think that it’s important that the media get the word out to everyone; what may seem like excessive, shrill or insistent coverage to some people may not even get the attention of others.

    Since we live in such a mobile society, it’s going to be important that people change their behavior if they are ill & can pass the virus on to others.

    Comment by homedk — 12:28 am April 30, 2009 #

  20. Yes, this area has been very proactive when thinking about public health. The “wash hands/cover sneezes/stay home” posters seem to be everywhere.
    .
    And yet – my former workplace was filled with sick people every flu season, because no one wanted to use their “PTO” days for something other than vacation. Nothing like sitting for hours with wheezing, sneezing co-workers in an enclosed meeting room with poor ventilation to help germs make the rounds. But with only 3 weeks or less of combined sick/vacation time for a lot of workers, I guess it seems too precious to waste…

    Comment by Michael — 1:12 am April 30, 2009 #

  21. My employer has been very proactive in how we are to handle it if this gets worse and a lot of people get sick. We all have very clear instructions about what to do and they have decided to actually pay those without sick leave if they need to stay home with the flu rather than come in.

    We have masks and some telecommuters that should get us through.
    One of my co-workers lives in WS and he went to several pharmacies looking for masks a couple of days ago (here in WS) and was told that not only were the stores out, but so was the warehouses. Not sure where they went, or if there weren’t a lot to start with. This was before there were any official cases in Washington. I guess all we can do is take it one day at a time, take precautions and not panic.

    Comment by Mags — 5:50 am April 30, 2009 #

  22. Michael, the lawfirm I worked for in NYC would penalize you if you used your sick days – more than 3 of them without doctors notes and you’d be written up and warned. I sat through the most ridiculous meeting about it when I violated that unwritten policy. I think in today’s economy, people are probably afraid to appear weak and unable to do their jobs, lest they risk getting laid off/fired. So people come to work sick. I’m grateful that my new manager, if she sees you are visibly sick, will make you go home.

    Comment by Sue — 6:53 am April 30, 2009 #

  23. The pandemic flu is not regular flu. The pandemic flu is a strain of flu that no one has any immunity to. Therefore, once it gets hold in a community, it will spread like wildfire. A pandemic flu season will be MUCH worse than a regular flu season. This particular flu has been deadly in Mexico. It has not been deadly here in the U.S. yet. Why? We do not know. Perhaps it is getting less virulent. Or perhaps we do not yet have enough cases (we have too few to make any useful conclusions). Perhaps the fatality rate will be no higher than the regular flu, but WE DO NOT KNOW YET. I have young children, and it is my job to protect them. Once I feel this flu is well established here, I will absolutely change my behavior to avoid it. I need useful information from the authorities. Unfortunately, the reporters do not understand what differentiates pandemic flu from regular flu and they do not ask the right questions.

    Comment by Nancy — 7:09 am April 30, 2009 #

  24. I know some families in Bothell in quarantine because they got back from Mexico during the outbreak, although they are showing no signs of the illness. 7 day quarantine. The kid I nanny for asked me about the swine flu, and I told him that he is more likely to die in a car wreck, and he seemed to let it go.

    I agree with Michael about the approach here to public health. I really don’t worry about stuff like that, but that’s just me. Maybe we should have a big “dangerous drivers” campaign with signs up at every parking lot or something.

    How much do you all think Roche is making off this?

    WSB, your coverage is great, to the point, and providing information people want to know. Thank you, I can’t even stand to turn on the “news” right now.

    Comment by Krystal — 7:35 am April 30, 2009 #

  25. Yeah, heaven forbid those of us that lead happy, active lives would be worried that somebody on the bus (aka a rolling petri dish) is gonna cough or sneeze without covering their mouths (which LOTS of people do) or that “Bob in Accounting” is going to come to work with a fever because he won’t take his PTO days…
    .
    and that we’ll catch a virus previously unknown to humankind–a virus that has killed young, healthy people by filling their lungs with fluid so that they can’t breathe. And that’s just if the virus doesn’t mutate into something even worse.
    .
    Shrill? I’d say not shrill enough.

    Comment by Kayleigh — 7:39 am April 30, 2009 #

  26. Madrona K-8 is now closed

    http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/2009/04/madrona-k-8-closed-due-to-swine-flu.html

    Comment by Tom — 7:56 am April 30, 2009 #

  27. The important thing to realize with H1N1 is the population with the highest death rates. The people dying from H1N1 are young, healthy adults. Human influenza death rates are the highest in the most vulnerable populations (elderly, toddlers, immune-compromised patients). When a virus is striking down the strongest members of a population that is a serious concern.

    Comment by bertha — 8:09 am April 30, 2009 #

  28. So, please keep in mind the 6 Washington influenza cases at issue are “probable” and “suspected” NOT “confirmed” Swine Flu. I am not drawing any conclusions from this or suggesting you do…but I did think it was relevant to the discussion.

    PS-Tracy you and the WSB are my favorite source for information/news. I’m simply amazed at how on top of things you are :)

    Comment by Near Alki — 8:55 am April 30, 2009 #

  29. It was a variation (the Spanish Flu ) of H1N1 that was responsible for the 1919 pandemic. Considering how easy it circled the globe in 1919, It is important to stay on top of it in the jet age that we live in. It was also responsible for preventing Seattle (Metropolitans) from earning it’s 2nd Stanley Cup, when the playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens was canceled (2-2-1) because of the pandemic.

    Comment by Jim — 9:02 am April 30, 2009 #

  30. I feel that WSB did us a service by posting this information. I feel that the information was given in a factual manner with no comments or feelings attached to the report. I welcome any information on this matter just to be kept informed. What we learn from this now will help us in the future.
    Keep up the reporting.

    Comment by celeste17 — 9:18 am April 30, 2009 #

  31. So you all know – right now the plan is to create one story a day to add major area developments, UNLESS there is a WS-specific story at any point, in which case we will start something new. I have started today’s story here:
    http://westseattleblog.com/blog/?p=16212
    including a link to the Seattle Public Schools announcement of the Madrona closure and what the district wants all families to know – TR

    Comment by WSB — 9:22 am April 30, 2009 #

  32. Jim-Keep in mind WW1 ended around November 1918. Soldiers from around the world circled the globe spreading the virus.

    Comment by Near Alki — 9:25 am April 30, 2009 #

  33. I just hope all of this makes people think more about their behavior anytime they could spread disease.
    .
    Just like when driving, we all believe it’s “the other guy” who is the problem, until the accident happens and the cop hands us the ticket.
    .
    Most of us could stand to remember to cover our sneezes/coughs and wash our hands a time or two (still seeing people walking out of stalls and bypassing the sinks, so I think flu-inspired hand washing is a tough sell).

    Comment by Michael — 11:40 am April 30, 2009 #

  34. Michael, I wash my hands before I pee. I know where my pal has been.

    Comment by seven — 12:02 pm April 30, 2009 #

  35. I haven’t seen or heard anything about the danger of Tamiflu, till I started to surf the net. This is just one from The Independent in Briten.

    “The Japanese health ministry has forbidden Tamilflu’s Japanese brand being given to people aged between 10 and 19 due to serious side effects, these are serious neurological and psychological effects that are not being shown to the patients, there is also a very high incidence rate of people committing suicide that have been administered this drug.

    In 2006 the US FDA amended under pressure its advisory on this drug to include: delirium, hallucinations and other linked psychological and psychiatric disorders, before that the FDA dismissed any claims to such stating there were no causal links to these claims.

    The Japanese health ministry also reported that between 2004 and 2007 out of a 128 serious cases of adverse psychological reactions, some 15 of the 128 reported cases attempted suicide with 8 of them dying in these attempts.

    No doubt this will be removed by the papers moderators but at least I tried to bring awareness to the people that there are major issues with this thing that we are supposed to trust our lives to.”

    Comment by AMR — 11:27 pm May 1, 2009 #

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