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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Swine flu update

The Virginia Department of Health sponsored a phone press conference at 2:30 p.m. today on the swine flu outbreak. Bob Mauskapf, director of operation, planning and logistics, was featured. Some highlights:

*As of 1 p.m. today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was reporting 64 confirmed human cases in the U.S., up from 40 cases at the same time yesterday. The cases are in California, N.Y, Texas, Ohio and Kansas, unchanged from yesterday. Five people have been hospitalized. No one has died. There are no confirmed cases in Virginia.

*Yesterday, the World Health Organization raised its influenza pandemic alert level to Phase 4 from  Phase 3. This means that there is the verified human-to-human transmission of a new virus, which could cause community outbreaks.

*Yesterday, the CDC recommended that all non-essential travel to Mexico be postponed until further notice.

*A vaccine against this strain of swine flu is being developed but will not be available for several months.

*The Department of Health will distribute antivirals from its stockpile if and when commercial supplies are not available. The antivirals will be distributed to pharmacies, local health departments, free clinics, hospitals, community health centers and nursing homes. The state has a stockpile of 770,000 courses of medicine and expects to receive another 280,000 courses from the CDC.

*Usually the very young and very old are at greatest risk from complications of the flu. With this strain, young adults seem to be at greatest risk. This may be because of young people’s “social mobility,” such as their tendency to travel and gather in groups, Mauskapf said, rather than any characteristic of the virus.

*The state’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services is not testing the suspected swine flu samples sent to it from Virginia doctors, hospitals and labs. Rather, the samples are forwarded to a CDC lab in Atlanta. As a result, it takes 48 hours to determine if the sample is a confirmed case of swine flu. That could change later in the week, Mauskapf said, when the state lab gets material from the CDC to begin its own testing. Then, turnaround time on a sample will be 12 hours. Mauskapf would not say how many samples Virginia has sent to the CDC.

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For the latest developments, see the CDC’s swine flu site here. 

The Virginia Health Department site is here.

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