Page One

Swine Flu Anxiety Wanes as Bay Area Schools Reopen

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday May 07, 2009 - 06:47:00 PM

With Bay Area schools starting to reopen this week, the anxiety surrounding swine flu has started to ebb, Alameda County public health officials said Wednesday, May 6. 

The county had one confirmed and four probable H1N1 cases as of Wednesday evening, including the parent of two Malcolm X Elementary School students in Berkeley. 

On Sunday, May 3, Berkeley’s acting Public Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman ordered Malcolm X closed for at least a week starting the next day, following the identification of the probable case, but lifted the restriction on May 5 based on new federal guidelines. 

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta announced that the swine flu had not turned out to be as fearful as initially thought, thereby eliminating the need to keep schools and childcare facilities closed if confirmed or probable cases showed up. 

“A lot of the concern and angst was generated around the school closures,” Alameda County Public Health official Sherri Willis said. “Once the CDC changed their guidelines, the number of calls we were getting from residents and the media declined. Closing schools was a big thing, because it disrupted the flow of things. All along in California, and nationally, the flu symptoms have been mild. We don’t know if they will continue to be mild.” 

Alameda County’s other three probable swine flu cases are all adults, Willis said. The confirmed case is the 50-year-old woman who was the first in the county to contract the virus last week. Willis declined to offer any other information about the cases. 

“The state is saying that 99 percent of the probable cases are turning out to be confirmed,” Willis said. 

So far 10 people with either confirmed or probable cases of swine flu have been hospitalized in California. 

Willis said the number of specimens being sent to the state lab had gone down from 50 or 60 a day to about 25. 

“The CDC has said the vast majority of tests have come back negative,” she said. “We’ve had so few cases so far that have been confirmed that we are trying to make some sense about the epidemiological curve—when the patients got sick, what symptoms they had, when was the apex of the symptoms—but we don’t have the information yet. At some point we will also have information on the number of negative tests, but we don’t have it yet.” 

There have been 99 confirmed cases of the H1N1 influenza virus in California, including 27 in San Diego County, 21 in Imperial County, four in Marin County and four each in Sacramento and San Bernardino counties, according to information posted online by the state Department of Public Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website showed 67 confirmed swine flu cases in California as of Wednesday evening and 642 cases in 41 states nationwide, including two deaths in Texas. 

One hundred and nineteen probable cases have been reported in California, including 24 in San Diego County, 19 in Imperial County, five in Santa Clara County, one in San Mateo County and two in San Francisco County, according to the state health office. 

All Bay Area counties have declared local emergencies, with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors declaring a local emergency May 5. 

The county health office, Willis 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 Centers for Disease Control report 67 confirmed cases in Texas, second only to Illinois, which has 122. 

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

“The message we are giving out to everyone is consistent,” Willis 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 avoid large gatherings. 

“We are not recommending people run out and get a mask or get Tamiflu until we know more 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 children getting affected.” 

Berkeley’s public health spokesperson Zandra Lee said 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,” Lee 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 it to their doctor.” 

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

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