BERLIN – Health officials this week confirmed four Worcester County Public School students have been diagnosed with Influenza A H1N1 (swine flu), bringing the total number of confirmed cases to six in the county.
Late last week, the Worcester County Health Department and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced the first two confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus in adults in the county. This week, health officials announced four county public school students had been officially diagnosed with H1N1. Although the names of the individuals and their locations have not been made public, county health officials this week said the confirmed cases are throughout Worcester and not localized in one area.
“The big message is, we know it’s now in the county and throughout our communities,” said county health department official Debra Stevens yesterday. “For that reason, we’re at a heightened alert for infection control measures. We expect those numbers will increase as the situation continues to evolve.”
When the so-called swine flu, now being identified as H1N1 Influenza A, a never before seen strain of the flu virus, first made its appearance with a reported outbreak across the nation and around the world earlier this spring, state and county health officials predicted it would only be a matter of time before the virus made its presence felt in Maryland.
In May, the first six cases in Maryland were confirmed, but the initial hysteria around the outbreak and its growing number of confirmed cases had simmered somewhat. Last week, the DHMH lab confirmed two probable cases in Worcester had tested positive for the H1N1 virus, and this week, county health officials confirmed four Worcester public school students had been officially diagnosed with the virus.
“As we’ve monitored the increasing numbers of H1N1 flu nationwide, we anticipated we would eventually see cases in our county,” said County Health Officer Debbie Goeller. “The Worcester County Health Department continues to monitor reports of illness, provide preventive information to the public and review and update local plans. We also continue to communicate with local health care providers to successfully diagnose and treat our residents who may be ill.”
With four local public school students officially diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, Worcester County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jon Andes sent a letter home with students this week announcing the presence of the virus in the schools and alerting parents and guardians about the appropriate response.
“The Worcester County Health Department has confirmed that four Worcester County Public School students have now tested positive for the H1N1 Flue (swine flu),” the letter reads. “The students attend various schools in our school system. Students diagnosed with H1N1 flu are being treated by a physician and will return to school when cleared by their physician. It is anticipated that the number of cases of H1N1 will continue to increase in our community.”
H1N1 is a respiratory disease caused by a new strain of influenza. It is similar to seasonal flu in that it is spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing, or by touching something with the flu viruses on it. H1N1 has similar symptoms to seasonal flu such as fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, sore throat and dry cough.
Because the H1N1 virus mimics the seasonal flu, its prevention and treatment are similar. Despite the sudden arrival of the virus in Worcester, health officials are closely monitoring potential cases and making the appropriate response in terms of prevention and education. While there are now six confirmed cases in the county, Stevens said there was no real reason for alarm in the community at this point.
“It’s an evolving situation,” she said. “At this point, in our confirmed cases, we’re seeing a very mild illness associated with a virus. The symptoms we’ve seen are similar to what you would expect with seasonal flu.”
Health officials said infection control remains the number one defense against the spread of the virus. Individuals who feel sick or are experiencing flu-like symptoms should stay home until symptom-free for at least 24 hours and limit their contact with other people. If the symptoms get worse, affected individuals are advised to contact their primary care physician or health care provider.
According to the latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) figures, there have now been 89 confirmed cases of H1N1 in Maryland including six now in Worcester. Across the nation, there have now been 13,217 confirmed cases including 27 deaths. While state and local health officials continue to carefully monitor the situation and advise the public about preventative measures and treatments, concern about the H1N1 virus has accelerated around the globe.
Just yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the first global flu pandemic in 41 years and raised its warning level from phase five to phase 6, its highest level. WHO declared the pandemic and raised the warning level based on the latest statistics, which 27,737 cases in 74 countries including 141 deaths.