Island flu case is confirmed

In a sign that the swine flu outbreak has reached a new phase, Mercer Island School District (MISD) officials announced on May 8 that a Mercer Island girl tested positive for 2009 H1N1 influenza and a second case is probable.

According to Schools Superintendent Gary Plano, a 14-year-old female student at Islander Middle School is the Island’s first confirmed case of the virus. Her sister, an Island Park Elementary School student, has been tested, but no results have been released.

The announcement came hours after Plano confirmed that the district was monitoring the 14-year-old’s case and would keep the public updated.

The girls were kept home by parents after they started showing flu-like symptoms. Those symptoms — which can last up to seven days — include fever, sore throat, cough, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. The virus is considered contagious as long as symptoms persist.

School nurse Bonnie Barthelme is reportedly receiving daily updates on her condition, but Islander Middle School will not shut down after new procedures from Public Health were issued allowing them to stay open.

“At this time, we do not see any anomalies in absenteeism,” Plano said. “We are actually seeing low volumes of [absent students].”

He said that the school district was also continuing education on preventative measures, such as washing hands and covering the mouth when coughing.

Public Health - Seattle and King County first reported the Mercer Island girl’s probable case of swine flu on May 5 as part of a list of probable and confirmed cases. The spreadsheet, which reported the girl was not hospitalized, has since been removed from the Public Health Web site.

Public Health spokesperson Matias Valenzuela said the response to the outbreak has changed from a strategy of containment to treatment, and the symptoms of the virus appear to be mild. Initially, when health officials knew less about the outbreak, they immediately closed schools and released general information on their Web site about individual cases suspected of contracting the H1N1 virus. But now, says Valenzuela, Public Health is adjusting its response by changing school closure policies and made the probable and confirmed cases list unnecessary.

“Normally, we wouldn’t do this and [publish that information],” he said. “We did it early on because people wanted to know this information. But it’s so widespread now, we’re going to phase it out.”

To combat the spread of H1N1 influenza, Public Health - Seattle and King County is treating those sickened from a stockpile of anti-viral drugs and advising the public to follow basic hygiene standards: Wash your hands often; if sick, stay at home; cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth, and avoid close contact with sick people.

Over 120 cases of H1N1 have been confirmed in King County so far, along with at least eight others throughout the state. As of May 8, cases were also reported from Seattle, Burien, Federal Way, Des Moines, Auburn, Renton, Lake Forest Park, Kent and Issaquah.

For more information, go to Public Health - Seattle and King County’s Web site or call the flu hotline at (877) 903-KING (5464).

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