Seven people in Santa Clara County have probably contracted swine flu, state officials said Wednesday afternoon. The announcement follows on the heels of a World Health Organization decision that morning raising the pandemic influenza phase from 4 to 5 -- an indication of its spread across the globe.
The number of confirmed swine flu cases in California has risen to 14, and the number of probable cases has increased to 29, according to Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the California Department of Public Health.
Of the seven probable cases in Santa Clara County, three are in San Jose and one is in Santa Clara. Late Wednesday afternoon, a county Public Health Department spokesperson said she did not yet have information on the other three probable cases that had been reported to the state Department of Public Health.
Of the known probable Santa Clara County cases, the first one, identified Tuesday, is a 16-year-old San Jose girl, according to the county. The others are a 30-year-old male who was not hospitalized; a 32-year-old woman who traveled to Mexico, did not require hospitalization and is recovering from symptoms; and a 53-year-old female.
County outreach investigation teams have been trying to determine who may have come in close contact with the three known probable new cases and therefore exposed to the illness. The county public-health laboratory has tested an additional 40 people for swine flu, but their tests came back negative.
A case is considered "probable" when the flu strain has been identified as type A, but not yet narrowed down to its subtype, according to Dr. Bonnie Sorensen, chief deputy director of the California Department of Public Health. The swine flu is known as A (H1N1).
The World Health Organization (WHO) categorization of the pandemic as a 5 is no cause for alarm, according to Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health.
"It describes the level of communication and impact on individual communities. This level is simply describing the level of activity that has already been seen. It's not triggering any additional activities on our part," he said. Mostly, the phase 5 categorization is a signal to other countries that have not yet been affected by the swine flu, he added.
According to the World Health Organization Web site: "Phase 5 is characterized by human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region. While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short."
The state Public Health Department also indicated it is providing schools with instructions on how to proceed if a probable case of swine flu case is detected among its students.
If a child is confirmed to have swine flu, or considered a high probability case, the department is recommending closure of the school for at least seven days, Horton said.
In San Jose, Branham High School -- where the 16-year-old girl was a student -- was ordered closed by Santa Clara County Health Officer Martin Fenstersheib.
In addition, Highlands Elementary School in Pittsburg has been closed after three students came down with flu and are being tested to see if their illness was caused by the swine flu virus.
Both schools are closed until May 6 to help prevent the virus from spreading, according to school officials.
Santa Clara County hospitals, emergency departments and community physicians have received instructions for surveillance, collecting lab samples and procedures for sending in their samples, according to public health officials.
On Tuesday, county public-health staff met with the San Jose Mineta Int'l Airport Customs Department and airport security. Passengers arriving from Guadalajara, Mexico were provided swine-flu alert information, a county news release stated. Mexicana Airlines provided passengers with masks.
Public staff is again distributing information to day workers in Mountain View and Morgan Hill, providing them information about where to go for services if they are symptomatic, county officials stated. The flu is believed to have originated in Mexico and has spread internationally.
The virus has sickened 51 people in New York City, 16 in Texas, two in Kansas, two in Massachusetts, two in Michigan, one in Nevada, one in Arizona, one in Indiana and one in Ohio, according to federal health officials. One death in Texas has been reported
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in response to the virus Tuesday morning, which allows the California Emergency Management Agency to work with the state Department of Public Health to prevent the disease from spreading, governor's spokesman Jeff Macedo said.
There are no reported of cases of swine flu in pigs worldwide, according to California Department of Food and Agriculture spokesman Steve Lyle.
The food and agriculture department, however, is closely monitoring state farms, slaughterhouses and fairs to evaluate the pigs, Lyle said.
People cannot catch swine flu by eating a cooked pig that has the disease, he said.
The swine flu outbreak was first reported in the U.S. in late March in Southern California and Texas, according to health officials. It is spread mainly person-to-person through coughing and sneezing.
Though not airborne, the virus can spread through droplets. Residents are advised to cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, wash hands often with soap and water, and avoid touching their eyes, noses and mouths.
The flu is characterized by a fever of 100 degrees or more, plus a cough or sore throat, and in more severe cases, respiratory distress. Sorensen said that those who feel flu-like symptoms should call their health care providers, who can prescribe antiviral medicine. If taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, the medicine can lessen symptoms and reduce further spread of the virus.
For those concerned about swine flu, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department has activated the Public Heath Information Line: (408) 885.3980.