KINGMAN - Arizona has confirmed its first official case of swine flu, and while no cases have yet been confirmed in Mohave County, local health officials have already shipped suspected samples to the state lab for analysis.
The Maricopa County Department of Public Health confirmed Wednesday that an 8-year-old boy attending Moon Mountain Elementary School in northwest Phoenix was the first person in the state confirmed to have contracted the virus.
The school announced that it would close for seven days following the discovery. The boy has since recovered, a department news realease said.
In Mohave County, meanwhile, no laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu have been discovered, though the county Department of Public Health has been closely following reports of flu-like symptoms coming into local hospitals, according to the department's assistant director, Jennifer McNally.
"We have been notified of individuals who have gone to providers with flu-like symptoms, though I would like to say that that isn't strange for this time of year since we are still in the flu season," McNally said. "Just because people are having flu-like symptoms doesn't mean it's necessarily swine flu; it could be the flu that was circulating during this last flu season."
Even so, McNally said the department has collected 11 samples of potential flu virus from several providers throughout the county. Those samples were being forwarded to the state lab for analysis, with the first results expected to come in sometime next Monday or Tuesday.
McNally noted, however, that not every patient exhibiting flu-like symptoms were being tested for the virus. One telltale sign of this particular strain of flu, she said, is that it tends to cause higher incidents of stomach problems.
"Some people are experiencing gastrointestinal problems, some are experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, and that's a little bit different than you see from the flu that circulates normally during the year," McNally said.
But she noted that patients suffering from vomiting or diarrhea may not necessarily have the virus, and could in fact have the standard seasonal flu instead.
"One thing that's important for the public to know is that we're still in flu season in Arizona, and some people may just have a mild case of flu and they don't necessarily need to go to their doctor or the emergency room," she said. "But when they experience more severe symptoms is when the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends they seek medical care. We don't want to tell people not to go to a doctor, but typically, mild cases resolve by themselves at home."
McNally emphasized the "at home" part, stressing that anyone who suspects they have some version of the flu - swine or otherwise - should stay away from work or school to avoid spreading the disease. She added that flu-sufferers should cover their face when they sneeze or cough, preferably with a facial tissue or their clothing, rather than their hands - which, she noted, should be washed thoroughly, regardless of whether you're sick or not.
"The magic rule of thumb is 20 seconds, and they need to be actually rubbing their hands together and using soap," McNally said. A good way to measure 20 seconds, she said, is to sing the song "Happy Birthday" twice.
Locally, the Kingman Regional Medical Center has reported an increase in the number of people asking to be tested, though KRMC spokeswoman Jamie Taylor said no one has proven so sick as to require admission to the hospital. "We have seen an increase in the number of people wanting to be tested, but we have no way of knowing until we get the results back whether they have swine flu or not," Taylor said. "Everyone's just been tested and released."
Taylor added that, unless patients are experiencing serious warning signs such as difficulty breathing, sudden dizziness or severe and persistent vomiting, they should stay home rather than come to the emergency room. "What they're doing is clogging ER departments across the state and preventing them from taking care of the truly ill," she said. "What we're asking is that people use common sense."
For more information on the swine flu virus, call (866) 409-4099 or visit www.HealthELinks.com.