Possible swine flu case tested negative

NORWICH – Chenango County Department of Public Health officials announced shortly after press time Friday that a local person who was tested for swine flu does not have the disease.

The unidentified person sought medical care from their physician last Saturday after experiencing flu-like symptoms, including fever. Public Health Department Director Marcas Flindt said the individual had recently returned from Mexico and was middle-aged.

Flindt said his office was notified of the possible case late in the day on Tuesday. As the designated gatekeeper for reporting the illness in Chenango County, the public health department discovered the case while surveying doctor’s offices, clinics and Chenango Memorial Hospital (CMH) in Norwich.

“A private provider did a nasal swab and sent the specimen in a test tube to the New York State Department of Health (DOH) laboratories in Albany,” said Flindt.

Chenango County Public Health has received a supply of nasal swabs from the state health department to distribute for free to physician’s offices and CMH for patients who meet the designated criteria.

Only patients with flu-like symptoms who have recently been to Mexico City within the last three weeks will be able to obtain the swabs from the health department and have access to the state’s laboratories to test for the virus.

“If CMH physicians or private doctors have a patient who meets that criteria, they are required to receive permission from the county health department before doing a nasal swab,” said Flindt.

The county department is permitted to submit up to three swabs per day, Flindt said, because the state health department “doesn’t want to be inundated with thousands” of the tests.

“Once we have a positive, the lab in Albany doesn’t want to receive any more. They are interested in swine flu in Chenango County, not the number of cases we might have,” said Flindt.

The nation learned of its first fatality from the disease on Wednesday, a 23 month-old child in Texas. So far, there are 109 confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S., 50 in New York (49 in New York City and one in Nassau County) and nine suspected cases in upstate New York (1 in Chenango County found to be negative and 2 in Cortland County).

The number of confirmed cases around the globe rose from 257 to 331 yesterday, the World Health Organization in Geneva reported. Seven people have died in Mexico where the virus is believed to have originated.

The Center for World Disease Control has labeled the disease a near pandemic, assigning a level 5 out of a possible 6 rating.

Flindt said medical industry researchers are discovering that patients with the swine flu aren’t sicker, typically, than those with strains of the seasonal flu. In some cases, the illness is a milder case of the seasonal flu, he said.

“Residents who go to the doctor with flu-like symptoms are going to be treated like they have the seasonal flu. It’s the flu. It’s flu season through end of May,” he said.

Patients who insist on having a doctor screen them for swine flu despite not meeting all of the necessary criteria may have the test administered at a charge. According to CMH’s laboratory personnel, insurance companies could pay for the testing if it is medically necessary. The cost of the flu test at this time is $126 plus a 9.35 percent state surcharge. If the test is negative, a culture is done, which is an additional $90.

To help prevent the spread of the disease, residents are asked to cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze or cough; wash their hands 6 to 8 times a day; keep their hands away from their face and eyes; stay home from work or school if they feel ill; and see their doctor if they experience symptoms of the flu.

For more information, the New York State DOH has established a toll-free hotline: 1-800-808-1987. The public can also obtain more information about swine flu and precautionary measures to take at the DOH’s website at www.nyhealth.gov.

Flindt said the county public health staff is spending about 30 hours a day on surveillance. Nurses are in daily contact with medical providers, school nurses, and pharmacists. So far, he said, there has been no run on antiviral drugs for fighting the flu. Public health and CMH’s officials are receiving updates and guidance via conference calls with the New York State Health Department every other day.

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