Originally Published: April 30, 2009 9:07 a.m.
With some Prescott pharmacies already selling out of facemasks, state health officials Wednesday announced Arizona's first confirmed case of the new swine flu virus.
The case involved an 8-year-old who has since recovered, officials said.
Even though the child is no longer sick, health officials decided to close the elementary school the youngster attends for seven days, state officials said in a press release.
"So far, swine flu appears no worse than regular, seasonal flu. But out of extreme caution, until we better understand this new virus, we are taking aggressive measures in order to limit its spread," the release said.
Will Humble, acting director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said, "We will likely see many more cases in Maricopa County and in the state, but this does not change our message. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve, wash your hands frequently and above all, stay home when you are sick."
Robert Resendes, director of Yavapai County Community Health Services, said he believes it's only a matter of time before Yavapai County gets its first confirmed case.
"It's spreading pretty well, and it seems to be transmitted easily," he said.
One positive thing about the virus here in the United States, he said, is that it doesn't seem to be affecting patients as severely as in less developed countries.
Resendes said that's probably because Americans are healthier to begin with and this country has better health care.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Wednesday the U.S. has 91 confirmed cases of the new swine flu virus, including one death in Texas. However, some news reports say the child who died lived in Mexico and simply was visiting relatives in Texas at the time the child became sick.
And on Wednesday, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said 11 countries now have confirmed cases of the new swine flu.
In addition, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan raised the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase four to phase five. She urged all countries to immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans.
Meanwhile, some area schools are gearing up for any eventuality.
"We decided to be proactive," said Mariela Bean, spokesperson for Humboldt Unified School District.
The district sent a letter home to parents on Monday, she said, and posted it on the district's website explaining the hygiene practices children should follow and urging parents to be vigilant in watching their children for signs of illness.
If a child is sick, that child should stay home, the letter stressed.
Bean said she thinks that's why the district has received only a few calls from concerned parents.
In addition, she said, the 10 schools in the district do a good job of keeping classrooms clean and disinfected on a regular basis.
"We have some pretty good protocols in place already," Bean said.
The district's school nurses met Wednesday afternoon to discuss and review the district's policies on communicable diseases, Bean said. And Thursday morning, district officials will meet to make a final plan to follow in case a confirmed case of swine flu pops up within the district.
"We fall under the umbrella of the county's emergency system," Bean explained. If a school does get a confirmed case, district officials will huddle with Yavapai County health officials to decide whether to close the school, she said.
It's likely that's what the district would do, she said, because that's the CDC's recommendation.
The schools would alert parents through the school's automatic phone messaging system.
Gary Walden, manager of Prescott's Goodwin Street Pharmacy, said Wednesday that his store has sold a lot of facemasks because of the swine flu scare. On Monday, he said, "We sold out (completely)."
CDC officials said people should consider using U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved facemasks in areas with confirmed cases of swine flu and where people must enter crowded settings.
Such masks are useful both to protect the nose and mouth from other people's coughs and to reduce the wearers' likelihood of coughing on others, the CDC said.
FDA facemasks are those cleared for use as a medical device. This includes facemasks labeled as surgical, dental, medical procedure, isolation or laser masks. Such masks have several different designs and provide specific levels of protection from penetration of blood and body fluids, the CDC said.