Placer County costs add up for new flu response

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The new H1N1 flu virus has cost Placer County $116,000, but there’s the possibility that health officials could be sending the bill to the federal government. Dr. Richard Burton, county health officer, described the county’s swine flu response as a remarkable three weeks with challenges that hadn’t been faced before. Burton said the county worked with a plan developed a year ago to ramp up a response on a disease that was initially seen as a potentially very serious virus. With reported mortality rates high in Mexico, the county worked to counteract the impact of an influenza that has no vaccine to fight it and no built-in community immunity, he said. Initial reports from Mexico were 10 percent mortality rates, he said. Heightening the work at the county laboratory in North Auburn was the knowledge that some of children attending the private school in Fair Oaks where some of the first California cases were discovered were Placer County residents, Burton said. Since then, the county has accepted 123 specimens and found 59 that met the criteria for further lab testing. Forty were negative and 18 were still pending by Tuesday. Potential cases involved residents age nine months to 89 years. The single verified swine flu case in the county so far was discovered Saturday and involved a 58-year-old Roseville resident. The patient had a mild case and has since recovered. Statewide, the Department of Health estimates $10 million has been spent on the H1N1 flu response. The total includes the cost of overtime, flu testing equipment and materials. The state Office of Emergency Services has advised counties that they could be eligible for disaster assistance. Rui Cunha, program manager for the county Office of Emergency Services, said Placer health officials acted quickly in response to the threat. It was one the first seven counties to order anti-viral medication and one of the first five to order anti-virals for pediatric applications. Burton and Cunha briefed the Board of Supervisors on the swine flu response at Tuesday’s board meeting. Burton said that health officials now know that milder cases are occurring in the U.S. and that the disease will be more prevalent for the next few months in the Southern Hemisphere. “The good news is the strain is not as severe as initial reports indicated and that it can be treated,” Burton said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at