Story last updated at 11:45 PM on Thursday, June 18, 2009

One case of swine flu reported in Homer



BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
STAFF WRITER

A Homer man in his 20s has been confirmed as having H1N1 influenza A, commonly called swine flu, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced on June 12. Seven new cases were confirmed last Friday, with new victims in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Skagway and Juneau.

Alaska's current case count is 23. Two new cases, both Anchorage women in their 20s, were added Tuesday. The age of the victims ranges from the Homer man and Anchorage women in their 20s to a woman in her 60s in Fairbanks.

The Homer man developed H1N1 influenza on June 3, a day after he had traveled Outside. Citing patient privacy, DHHS could not provide details about the man's exact age or where he traveled, said Greg Wilkinson, a DHSS spokesperson. The man recognized that he had flu symptoms and got medical help. He also stayed home to avoid contact with others, as public health officials recommend. The man did not take anti-viral medicines and other members of his household have not developed symptoms, Wilkinson said.

The Centers for Disease Control and DHSS urged these basic preventative measures:

Cover sneezes and coughs either with tissues or by sneezing into shirt sleeves.

Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds in soap and water or with hand sanitizers.

Stay home and avoid close contact with others if you are sick and have flu symptoms such as fever, body aches and cough. Avoid public activities for at least five days, or seven days for children, to prevent spreading the disease.

DHHS defines a pandemic flu as a global outbreak of an influenza virus for which people have little or no immunity, and for which a vaccine may not have been developed. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working on an H1N1 vaccine.

Last week, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis announced it had produced an initial batch of H1N1 vaccine, and will start clinical trials in July.

As of June 12, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has reported 17,855 cases and 45 deaths nationwide of H1N1, not including the latest Alaska reports. Although commonly confined to pigs, the strain of concern is contagious and can spread from humans to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, H1N1 most probably is spread through coughing or sneezing. It is not spread through eating pork, bacon or ham.

Last week the World Health Organization raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 6, the highest level of concern. Phase 6 means that the virus is now expected to traverse the globe, and countries that have not yet seen cases will eventually see H1N1 and should be prepared. The raise in alert does not mean WHO has declared the virus is more severe. According to PanFlu epidemic plans already developed by public health officials, some aspects of the plan will now be implemented. The Homer PanFlu Working Group has been meeting weekly to review its plan and take further steps as the situation changes.

Alaska has 110,000 courses of anti-viral drugs, with 10,000 distributed to local communities. Masks and other medical supplies also are being distributed statewide as part of the state's readiness plan.

For more information, visit the DHSS pandemic flu Web site at www.pandemicflu.alaska.gov or the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michaelarmstrong.@homernews.com.

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