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A dozen more possible swine flu cases emerge in Placer County

Negative test on first sample comes back but potential for positive cases probable
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Lab results for Placer County’s initial suspect case of human swine flu have come back negative but there’s little doubt among health officials that a positive test is just a matter of time. More than a dozen samples of possible Placer County swine flu cases were being tested Tuesday, with more expected to be brought in throughout the day, said Jim Gandley, assistant director of Placer County Health & Human Services. The initial test result was brought to the Centers for Disease Control attention and the state initially listed the Placer County case as “probable” swine flu. The negative determination on the sample came back Tuesday. Gandley said it’s probable now that more cases will be discovered in the county. On Monday, a Fair Oaks teen became the first official Northern California swine flu patient and had recovered enough to conduct a TV interview. Two other cases at his school were also confirmed. “It’s not moving as rapidly as it could but it’s early in the event,” Gandley said. “I think it’s probably going to happen (a spread of the flu into Placer County) and it could be going on for several weeks.” At some point, health officials will stop conducting tests on each case but for now, the effort is being made to try to determine and understand the “footprint” of the spreading flu, Gandley said. The Associated Press reported that at least seven people were in U.S. hospitals with swine flu Tuesday as the number of cases nationwide rose to 64 and a federal health official warned that deaths were likely. In California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared an emergency while calling for additional deployment of Centers for Disease Control influenza experts to Southern California counties. While the Mexican government has responded to the spread of swine flu there with free distribution of more than four million face masks, there were no masks evident on the streets of Auburn. Reaction to reports of the disease was mixed. Cool’s Rush Alexander said the media may be pressing the panic button when what he’s learned so far indicates a light strain of the flu. “It’s probable it will be here but don’t panic,” Alexander said. “The press is responding like it’s going to kill us all. I’m not worried.” Sandra MacDougall of Auburn said that her son has been planning to fly home from Austin, Texas for Mother’s Day May 10. “I called him and told him I don’t want him on a plane,” MacDougall said. “They’re finding that it’s the people with the stronger immune systems who are falling ill.” MacDougall, a member of the Highway 49 band, said that the concern hasn’t been strong enough yet to question showing up for the band’s next gig in Nevada County. “There are no plans to change our schedule,” she said. Kitty Hollitz of Auburn said that she’s heartened so far by descriptions of the disease that indicate it may be a mild form of flu. “It sounds more like a cold,” Hollitz said. “And it doesn’t sound like it’s widespread so far. I hope it doesn’t go any further.” Hollitz, who is in her 80s, said she already takes precautions like washing her hands several times a day. She even has a couple of face masks at home to break out if need be. “I’m not doing anything differently,” she said. “I’m just more conscious of it.” At Auburn Drug Co. in Downtown Auburn, pharmacist Andrea Packheiser said there had been interest by a couple of people about Tamiflu, a flu preventative and treatment that has been stockpiled by the federal government in the event of a pandemic. Packheiser said that it can only be obtained with a prescription and even then, it’s hard to get. “We can order it under special circumstances,” she said. Gandley said results from tests on some of the samples could be ready by Wednesday to determine if any swine flu case can be substantiated in the county. The number of samples being turned in by physicians has been “a trickle” with no marked increase Tuesday, he said. If a case is substantiated, then more individual information, including location of the patient, would be available, he said. None of the people that samples have been taken from have been hospitalized, Gandley said. And physicians will be telling them to stay at home to help contain whatever they have, he added. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.