Alameda County Gets First Probable Case of Swine Flu

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday May 02, 2009 - 12:02:00 PM

Health officials have announced Alameda County’s first probable case of swine flu, a 50-year-old woman with no recent travel history to Mexico. 

Alameda County Public Health spokesperson Sherri Willis said Friday afternoon that the woman was not hospitalized, but had received medical care and was recovering. Willis declined to offer any other information about the case, explaining that sharing too much detail could give rise to speculation. 

“We can only confirm that she is an Alameda County resident,” she said. “We are continuing to monitor the situation.” 

There have been 17 confirmed cases of the H1N1 influenza virus in California so far, including eight in San Diego County, five in Imperial County, two in Marin County and one each in Sacramento and San Bernardino counties, according to information posted online by the state Department of Public Health. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website showed 13 confirmed swine flu cases in California as of Friday afternoon and 141 cases nationwide, including one death, a Texas child who had recently returned from Mexico. 

In addition to California’s 17 confirmed cases, 55 probable cases have been reported, including 11 in San Diego County, 10 in Imperial County, six in Santa Clara County, four in Sacramento County, two in San Mateo County and one each in Alameda and San Francisco counties, according to the state health office. 

“The incidence of swine flu is increasing across the Bay Area,” said Alameda County Public Health Director Dr. Tony Iton. “This is our first case and we expect more.” 

Willis said to date, the Alameda County Public Health lab has sent 92 swine flu specimens for testing at the state laboratory in Richmond, and more samples are coming in daily. 

“The state Department of Public Health told us 95 percent of probable cases in California turn out to be confirmed,” she said. 

The county health office, Wilis said, has been preparing for the epidemic ever since news broke of the cases in San Diego and Imperial counties. 

“Both counties were Southern California border cases, and then the cases in Texas cropped up,” she said. The Center for Disease Control reports 28 confirmed cases in Texas, second only to New York, which has 50. 

The county health office is working with the state health department to survey the new virus and lessen its impact. 

Willis said so far no schools have been closed nor events canceled in Alameda County. 

“The message we are giving out to everyone is consistent,” she said. “They need to practice good hygiene. It’s an airborne virus, so we need to take precautions that are common during a regular bad flu season.” 

Willis says those who have recently traveled to Mexico or who are experiencing persistent flu-like symptoms should see a doctor and get screened for the virus. Simple precautions are very effective, she said, advising people to wash their hands regularly, cover their mouths when coughing, and to avoid large gatherings. 

“We are not recommending people run out and get a mask or get Tamiflu until we know amore about the flu,” she said. 

Because H1N1 is a new strain of virus—a combination of pig, human and bird viruses—no one is immune to it. 

“This is a brand new virus,” Willis said. “Nobody has seen this virus before. There is no immunity and no vaccine. That is maybe why healthy people are getting it. Children don’t have a strong immune system, so we are seeing a lot of children getting affected.” 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said that although there have been situations where students have gone home after feeling sick, the district had no confirmed or reported cases of the swine flu yet. 

“I haven’t heard any reports of decline in attendance or anything, or of kids being kept at home,” Coplan said. “We know that at some point it’s going to hit, because we have a lot of people who travel to Mexico, but right now we are just telling everyone to take precautionary measures.” 

In the case of a swine flu outbreak in the Berkeley public schools, Coplan said Berkeley’s acting Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman would make the call about whether or not to close down the district. 

Zandra Lee, a spokesperson for the city’s Public Health Department, said that although Berkeley still did not have any identifiable or confirmed cases, city health officials were anticipating the first case soon. 

“We understand it’s causing a lot of anxiety for everyone because of the uncertainty and the severity of the virus,” she said. “We are asking people to balance fear with action—to stay informed and updated, follow simple steps and be prepared.” 

County, state and federal agencies are advising the public to stock up on family emergency preparedness kits. Households should have a minimum of two week’s worth of food, water, medicine and emergency supplies sufficient for the entire family. 

“Parents should begin to plan for child care should there be school closings,” Lee said. “If we have a case at a Berkeley school, we would consider closing down an individual school or the whole district based on federal guidelines. It would be a regional and local decision, and both Dr. Berreman and Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett would make that decision.” 

Lee said that city health officials had been busy working behind the scenes preparing for any kind of emergency in case the flu changes its course. 

“We also want people to know that not all the cases in the Bay Area are linked to tourism or travel,” she said. “It’s also because of close contact with people who traveled to Mexico or did not. The association with travel to Mexico is getting less direct.” 

“People should remain calm,” Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said. “The flu could be a major problem, but so far symptoms have been mild. People should exercise precaution—when they are coughing they should cough into a tissue or their elbow. If they feel sick they should stay home and go to bed, and if they get worse they should report to their doctor. So far we don’t know of any case in Berkeley, but that’s not to say we will not see it here. Berkeley people are world travelers and the flu will find its way here, too.” 

Berkeley residents without medical insurance who find themselves with flu-like symptoms can call the city’s nurse of the day at 981-5300. 

There is currently no vaccine, but there are actions that people can take to help prevent the spread of germs: 

• Stay at home if you are sick. 

• Cough and sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow. 

• Wash your hands often with soap and water and use hand sanitizer. 

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. 

• Avoid close contact with sick people. 

• Avoid attendance at large gatherings. 

For further information: 

• Berkeley City Public Health Division: 981-5300 or www.ci.berkeley.ca.us

California Department of Public Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization

• For a list of products to have at home, click here