Published Friday, May 1, 2009 | 11:05 a.m.
Updated Friday, May 1, 2009 | 12:47 p.m.
The unique flu strain that is spreading around the world and throughout the United States has affected 141 people in 19 states, including one child in Northern Nevada, federal health officials said today.
Five other potential cases in Nevada are being tested at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory in Atlanta, state health officials confirm. A 2-year-old girl in a Reno daycare center is the single confirmed case in Nevada so far, said Judy Davis, a public information officer for the Washoe County Health District. Three other potential northern Nevada residents have had preliminary tests sent to the CDC, she said this morning.
Two tests of Southern Nevada residents were also sent to the CDC lab, said Stephanie Bethel, public information officer for the Southern Nevada Health District. Results are expected within a few days, with a minimum of 48 hours needed to confirm the virus strain.
"This is still flu season, and that's why we were able to determine the new strain," said Martha Framsted, Nevada State Health Division spokeswoman. The state does flu surveillance throughout urban and rural areas, she said.
The newly confirmed cases are up from 109 reported on Thursday, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, interim deputy director for Science and Public Health at the CDC. The eight new states reporting cases are New Jersey with five, Delaware with four, Illinois with three, Colorado and Virginia with two each, Minnesota and Nebraska with one each and Kentucky with one. Georgia had reported a flu case, but it was a Kentucky resident who visited that state.
The other states reporting cases besides Nevada include New York, Texas, California, South Carolina, Kansas, Massachusetts, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona and Michigan, the CDC said.
"We expect to see more cases, we expect to see the counts go up," Schuchat said.
The median age of flu patients is 17 years, with a range between 1- and 81-year-olds, she said.
The Centers for Disease Control is trying to determine how virulent the 2009 influenza H1N1 is, Schuchat said.
There has been no decision on whether a vaccine is possible before the start of the regular flu season in the fall, she said.
Nancy Cox, chief of the influenza division of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said that the United States is learning much more about the new flu strain which combines bits of genetic material from bird, swine and human strains of the flu.
The "novel" virus has popped up in Mexico, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany and each of those strains are 99 percent to 100 percent identical, Cox said. "This would make it somewhat easier to produce a vaccine because the viruses are so alike," Cox said.
The first step will be for the Centers for Disease Control to produce a candidate vaccine virus so manufacturers can grow it in laboratories and produce large enough quantities for a vaccine, Cox said.
However, the decision to produce such a vaccine has not been made by the United States, she said. In 1976 after a swine flu outbreak at a military base in New Jersey, a vaccine developed against that strain caused severe side effects and was discontinued.
While most medical supply stores in Las Vegas are sold out of masks to cover noses and mouths, one medical center is offering them while supply lasts.
Harmon Medical Center is providing up to five free masks to those who appear in person at 150 E. Harmon Ave., at the corner of Koval Lane anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"Wearing a mask can help reduce exposure to droplets from a cough or sneeze, which is how the H1N1 virus is spreading," said Dr. Nawaz Qureshi, medical director of the center. "They are a helpful took in crowded places or when traveling by bus or plane."
The masks available while supplies last are medical grade and can be reused, he said.
While the masks are available, they are not a replacement for hygiene practices that protect people from the flu, Qureshi said.
"You can help to avoid spreading or catching flu virus by washing your hands at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water after using the restroom, blowing your nose, and before eating or preparing meals," said the director of the independently owned and operated medical facility on the Las Vegas Strip.