Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Swine Bullet Was Dodged

Posted By on Tue, May 19, 2009 at 4:21 PM

"The risk for contagion posed by this case likely has passed," said Humboldt County Public Health Officer Ann Lindsay, addressing reporters in what looked like the county's swine flu war room this afternoon. On the day previous, the county had received confirmation of its first case of the H1N1 influenza, a new variant of the virus that arose in Mexico last month and quickly spread itself throughout the world. And despite the fact that the new bug turns out to be far less virulent or deadly than had been feared, it turns out that the county had been extraordinarily lucky in its first brush with the swine flu.

As Lindsay told it, a local woman in her 20s had been traveling out of state last month, visiting an area where the virus had already taken root. She fell somewhat ill on April 28, and when she drove back to town on May 3 she had developed a full-blown case of the flu, as well as an attendant case of pneumonia. She checked herself into Mad River Hospital the day she got back, and stayed there, in isolation, for four days. While there, she was swabbed for swine flu germs and her sample was sent off to a state laboratory. By the end of the four days, she had recovered fully and could no longer transmit the virus to others, so she was released. None of the hospital personnel who treated her have come down ill, Lindsay said. For our purposes all indications are that the rogue strands of RNA stayed put right there in the unfortunate victim's insides, until such time as they were defeated entirely.

If you'll notice, the results from the test didn't come back for nearly two weeks. This, Lindsay said, was somewhat unusual in her experience, and likely a result not only of the swine flu pandemic but of the budget crisis gripping California. The waiting period did have consequences, she hinted, but thankfully in this case they were not severe.

"In this case, the results did not get back soon enough to be of any importance in deciding what medication to use in treating the patient," she said. "It does speak to the fact that those of us in public health feel like we are public safety entities, just like fire and law enforcement, and there are public safety elements of public health that are underfunded, and the laboratory system is one of them."

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Hank Sims

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