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Still no swine flu cases in N.C.

As the World Health Organization moves closer to declaring a swine flu pandemic, five more suspected cases in North Carolina have tested negative for the disease, the state's public health director said Wednesday.

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Five more suspected cases of swine flu in North Carolina have tested negative for the disease, the state's public health director said Wednesday.

So far, tests have been negative for any flu virus on 20 samples submitted to state labs. Four people tested positive for two strains of seasonal flu, and 17 other samples were still being tested late Wednesday, State Health Director Dr. Jeffrey Engel said.

Lab technicians also were testing samples from people displaying flu-like symptoms but whom officials don't suspect of having swine flu, said Dr. Zack Moore, a respiratory epidemiologist with the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"Every day we go without a confirmed case is good news," Engel said in a news conference.



Across the country, health officials had identified more than 90 cases of swine flu in 10 states as of Wednesday. Of those, five have been hospitalized, and a 23-month-old boy in Houston is the only person in the U.S. to die from the disease.

The spread of the disease prompted the Geneva-based World Health Organization to raise its alert level to its next-to-highest notch, signaling a global pandemic could be imminent.

CDC issues testing kits, medications

Engel and Moore said North Carolina's labs have ramped up capacity to levels usually seen during the peak of the annual flu season so that samples could be tested as quickly as possible.


Testing kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were expected to arrive in Raleigh late Wednesday or Thursday, allowing the state labs to do their own testing that could confirm the presence of swine flu in North Carolina, Engel said.

States have been relying on the CDC in Atlanta to confirm the presence of the virus, and Engel said the testing kits would help speed the process.

"Getting a test for a new virus out this quickly – basically within a week – is (a result of) the miracle of modern molecular medicine," he said. "This is really very fast."

The CDC also has distributed a quarter of the nation's strategic stockpile of anti-viral medications and masks, and Engel said North Carolina should receive its allotment by late Wednesday. He said the supplies would be dispatched to counties statewide by the weekend.

Officials have no plans to distribute any of the 660,000 doses of flu treatment the state has stockpiled, he said.

Public health officials across North Carolina have ordered people suspected of having swine flu to remain in isolation at home.

Engel urged residents to take precautions by staying at home if they have flu-like symptoms, washing their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 15 seconds and seeing a doctor if flu symptoms become serious.

"To ward off any potential, just be prudent as you would during normal flu season," he said.

The state has resisted issuing any quarantine orders for healthy people who have been in contact with suspect cases, Engel said, preferring to educate households about the steps needed to prevent the virus from spreading.

"Our modus operandi is not if, it's when we're going to get our first (confirmed case)," he said. "All of these suspect cases ... we're treating as if they have the disease until they're ruled out."

Flu speading worldwide

Confirmed cases were found Wednesday in Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Nevada. Previously, confirmed cases were found in California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas.

State officials in Maine said laboratory tests had confirmed three cases in that state, although those had not yet been included in the CDC count. Also, the Pentagon said that a Marine in southern California had tested positive for the disease.

Some schools in at least eight states have closed over swine flu fears, and President Barack Obama said Wednesday that more might have to close for several days to limit the spread of the disease. Texas has canceled high school athletic events for the next week and a half, and Gov. Rick Perry issued an emergency declaration.

Many people nationwide have started wearing masks in public, while others canceled trips to Mexico after the government advised against unnecessary travel to that country.

"We expect to see more cases, more hospitalizations, and unfortunately, we're likely to see additional deaths from the outbreak," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday.

The WHO said most of the people worldwide with swine flu were in Mexico. In that country, the swine flu strain is suspected in more than 150 deaths, and about 2,500 others may be suffering symptoms.

WHO officials say the source of some infections in the United States, Canada and Britain is unclear.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 85 percent of the confirmed U.S. cases weren't associated with travel, according to Engel.

Cuba and Argentina have banned travel to Mexico, and several European countries have also issued travel advisories.

Scotland and Spain reported confirmed cases of swine flu on Tuesday, and Germany confirmed a case on Wednesday. New Zealand, Canada, Israel and Austria also have confirmed cases of swine flu.

Obama on Tuesday asked Congress to approve $1.5 billion to fight the outbreak. Money would go toward improved monitoring to identify and isolate suspected cases and upgrades in testing both to confirm cases and to develop vaccines.

"Every American should know that the federal government is prepared to do whatever is necessary to control this virus," Obama said Wednesday.

The world has no vaccine to prevent infection, but U.S. health officials aim to have a key ingredient for one ready in early May – the big step that vaccine manufacturers are awaiting. But even if the WHO ordered up emergency vaccine supplies – and that decision hasn't been made yet – it would take at least two more months to produce the initial shots needed for human safety testing.