N.C. reports two more 'probable' H1N1 cases
Posted May 2, 2009 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated May 3, 2009 8:42 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina is waiting for federal lab results that will determine whether the state has any cases of the H1N1 virus.
State health investigators have sent a total of four "probable" cases to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for testing, and officials expect results to return at any time.
Lab technicians in North Carolina only have the ability to determine whether a case is likely, although they hope to have the ability this weekend to conduct their own confirmations of cases within the state.
State epidemiologist Zack Moore said Saturday that two more probable cases of the virus have been sent to the CDC for testing.
The new cases are in addition to two others reported earlier this week.
The first new case comes from the same Onslow County household as an earlier case. The family had recently traveled to Texas.
The second new case is in Craven County, and officials are still investigating how that person could have gotten the disease.
One of the two earlier cases was from a traveler visiting Wake County. The man was allowed to return to Canada this week after a North Carolina clinician initially suspected he only had a seasonal illness, officials said Friday.
State lab technicians are working around the clock and have tested 334 specimens, with 258 coming back negative and 76 still pending.
“We do feel that this is a very serious health issue and there’s clearly a need to ramp up our preparedness,” Moore said.
More anti-viral medication and personal protective gear will be sent to all counties in the state, Moore said. The state is awaiting more deliveries before they start distributions across the state.
Churches in the Triangle were also taking precautions to prevent the virus from spreading during Sunday's worship services.
Some denominations suggested Communion wine not be served in a common cup and hand sanitizer was being offered to those that distribute Communion wafers and wine.
Mexico reports no new deaths
The epicenter of the outbreak, Mexico reported no new deaths from swine flu overnight, giving rise to some optimism that the worst was over there. Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said they had expected exponential growth in the number of persons complaining of swine flu symptoms and that, instead, the outbreak seems to be slowing.
Overnight, the count of cases in the United States rose to 161, and there were 766 confirmed swine flu cases worldwide, although the real number is believed to be much higher. The virus also has been detected in Canada, New Zealand, Israel and eight European nations.
U.S. President Barack Obama also urged caution on Saturday in his radio and Internet address.
"This is a new strain of the flu virus, and because we haven't developed an immunity to it, it has more potential to cause us harm," Obama said. "Unlike the various strains of animal flu that have emerged in the past, it's a flu that is spreading from human to human. This creates the potential for a pandemic, which is why we are acting quickly and aggressively."
"That is the big question: Is it stabilizing or not? And it is too early to say, but I think we are getting systems in place where we are going to be able to get a handle on this soon," said Dr. Steve Waterman of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Waterman also warned against taking false comfort from the fact that only one person has died outside Mexico, saying more deaths are likely as the epidemic evolves.
Scientists trying to determine the mortality rate said this virus does not appear to match the ferocity of past killers.
"Most people think it is unlikely this is going to be as virulent as the 1918 epidemic. From what we know so far, it doesn't seem like it is as virulent," Waterman said.
"The virus has been circulating for over a month in a city of 20 million of high population density. It could have been much worse," agreed CDC epidemiologist Marc-Alain Widdowson.
Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova cited other indications that the disease is not very contagious: Mexican investigators who visited 280 relatives of victims found only 4 had contracted the disease, and the number of people hospitalized with suspected cases is declining. But he stressed that it's too early for the government to declare the epidemic is subsiding.
Getting fast and effective care is important, said Hugo Lopez-Gatell Ramirez, deputy director general of epidemiology at the center. Among the confirmed swine flu deaths in Mexico, the average time victims waited before going to a doctor was seven days. For those who were sickened but recovered, the average wait was three days.
Local students return home from Mexico
A group of students from Mount Olive College were expected to arrive at Raleigh-Durham International Airport Saturday night after a trip to Mexico.
College President Bill Byrd said officials kept close contact with the students throughout their stay in Mexico, where there have been 16 confirmed H1N1 virus deaths.
School leaders said the student group was hundreds of miles away from areas in Mexico that had significant outbreaks.
“We had no concerns. This was a fabulous opportunity for the students,” said Ken Stokes, dean of the college’s business school.