Originally Published: April 28, 2009 10:54 p.m.
As the number of confirmed cases of the new swine flu virus continues to rise in the United States, the biggest problem health officials are facing currently in the ongoing outbreak is getting timely testing results, state and local health officials said Tuesday.
The Arizona Department of Health Services has sent four suspicious Arizona flu samples to the Centers for Disease Control lab for additional testing. The samples are of an undetermined subtype, said ADHS spokeswoman Laura Oxley Tuesday. CDC testing will determine whether the strain is the new variation of the swine flu virus.
Oxley said she doesn't know which Arizona counties the four specimens are from.
The state sent one sample out Monday and three more Tuesday.
"Once CDC gets the sample," Oxley explained, "they have to grow it to determine its typing."
She said early Tuesday that state officials had hoped to get some results by the end of the day. But by late afternoon, those hopes were dashed.
"Evidently the CDC is swamped," Oxley said in an e-mail. "The expected turnaround time went from 8 to 24 hours."
By the end of the day Tuesday, CDC officials said the United States had 64 confirmed cases of the new viral infection in five states: California, Texas, Kansas, Ohio and New York.
In addition, cases have been confirmed in Mexico, where the new virus is believed to have originated, as well as Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Israel and Spain.
Robert Resendes, director of Yavapai County Community Health Services, said Tuesday that the stepped-up influenza testing at the state level doesn't mean all of the samples are of the H1N1 swine flu type.
He said it just means that officials haven't been able to "type" the viruses - which isn't unusual, he added.
State officials said lab technicians tested 100 samples on Tuesday.
"The majority of the specimens are from Maricopa County," Resendes said. "Only one, so far, (is) from Yavapai County."
In another new development, Resendes said Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System officials have agreed to pay for rapid flu testing for the next 30 days for any of its low-income patients who need it. He said that in the past, AHCCCS has not paid for such testing.
Also on Tuesday the World Health Organization raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 4. A Phase 4 alert means there is confirmed person-to-person spread of a new influenza virus able to cause "community-level" outbreaks, according to the organization's website.
CDC officials also issued a travel warning Tuesday recommending people avoid non-essential travel to Mexico.
The CDC is releasing one-quarter of its national stockpile of antiviral drugs, personal protective equipment and respiratory protection devices to local communities.
Resendes said Yavapai County expects to get its share of those supplies by the end of the week.
Meanwhile - as federal officials stressed that there is no relationship between eating pork products and contracting swine flu - a few local restaurants with pork items on their menus said Tuesday they noticed a drop off in customers ordering their usually popular barbeque sandwiches.
"It's hard to judge, but we have sold more beef products today," said Mike Paper, owner of Larry & Hy's BBQ on Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott. He said that's unusual because generally his pulled pork sandwiches are more than half of all his sales.
Don Karcie, owner of Porky's Smoked BBQ, 330 W. Gurley St., said he has noticed a "significant drop-off" in the sale of pork items.
"We're doing a third of what we normally do," he said Tuesday. "It's kind of weird. The people that were here (eating the pork products) weren't concerned, but it's the people that aren't here that we're worried about."
But Scott Stanford, managing partner of Prescott's new Texas Roadhouse, said that during this past weekend his sales of barbequed pork had increased. However, he noted, it might have been because of the influx of visitors for two big Prescott events that took place over the weekend.
Heath officials say anyone with signs of respiratory infection should stay home from school or work and see their doctor to get tested.
And they continue to stress that frequent hand washing throughout the day - and not just after using the bathroom - is critical in preventing the spread of the new virus.
The best source of information about the new virus, state and local officials say, is the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/swineflu.