Leader Blues

Friday, August 28, 2009

TOP STORY >> Swine flu hits Cabot schools

Leader staff writer

These days when a nasal swab test is positive for Type A influenza, odds are the patient has the new strain of flu that has covered the globe and as yet can not be prevented with a vaccine.

Although information is sketchy, predictions from health officials that the number of cases would increase when school started were accurate.

Schools are taking precautions recommended by the Center for Disease Control and the Arkansas Department of Health to keep students healthy. But students are getting sick despite increased use of hand sanitizer and disinfectants and instructions on proper hand washing.

Dr. Belinda Shook, school superintendent at Beebe, said Thursday that there has been one confirmed case of Type A flu at the high school.

“I’m sure there will be more,” she said.

Dr. Tony Thurman, school superintendent at Cabot where 12 children were sent home from Magness Creek Elementary School on Monday, says he has seen doctors’ notes that some of his students have Type A influenza.

Ed Barham, spokesman for the state Health Department, said Friday that he had spent much of his day on the phone with schools. And kids are getting sick, he said. Type A influenza could mean the seasonal flu, but not now, he said. Now it means that the patient is ill with what was originally called swine flu.

Over the past three months when it first surfaced with news out of Mexico that 60 people had died, the new flu has been known by three different names. First it was the generic swine flu, despite the fact that genetically it is made up of two types of swine flu, one human flu and one bird flu. Then it was called the novel H1N1 influenza virus (Swine Flu) and finally the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus.

There are three types of flu: A, B and C. The symptoms of Type C are generally mild, so the nasal swabs used at doctors’ offices to test for the flu react only to A and B. Tests by the CDC have shown that those quick tests done in doctors’ offices are accurate only 40 to 60 percent of the time with the new flu. A negative result doesn’t necessarily mean the patient doesn’t have the flu.

But further tests performed at CDC labs have shown that 98 percent of patients with positive tests for Type A influenza had 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus, or as it was called when it first surfaced, the swine flu.

To say with certainty that all the patients with the flu have the new flu is not possible because that would require more tests by the state or CDC, Barham said.

Tests were done long enough to determine which groups were most at risk and how far the virus has spread. Now they know it’s widespread among young people, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions. And testing has all but stopped.

Although it is a new variety, it’s still the flu and the treatment is the same as with other varieties.

“If you think you have the flu, stay home, rest and get well,” he said. “If your kids are sick, keep them home until they’re well.”

About 10 percent of those exposed to the seasonal flu will become ill, Barham said. Since no one has any immunity to the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus, the expectation is that 30 to 50 percent who are exposed will get the flu.

Every year about 36,000 die from seasonal flu. Since there won’t be a vaccine for the new flu until sometime in October, the fear is that the number could be higher, possibly even triple.

The good news for now is that the virus has not lived up to expectations, he said. The fear is that it still might.

“We want people to be aware and alert but not alarmed,” he said.