Tulare County has identified a second suspected case of swine flu in a young female employee at a Porterville convalescent hospital, health officials said Thursday.
"As with our first probable case, we have sent the specimen to the state labs for confirmation," said Dr. Karen Haught, health officer for Tulare County. The county is still awaiting state test results on an earlier suspected case -- that of a female kindergarten student at Mountain View Elementary School in Visalia. The school's temporary shut-down was ordered Wednesday by the local health department after the girl and a boy in her kindergarten class became ill with flulike symptoms.
Haught said four students from the school had become ill and were tested. Two have been cleared of the virus -- including the kindergarten boy -- but the girl is still being considered a probable case. Health officials aren't sure whether the other case is flu or not.
However, Haught said the most recent probable case poses significant concern, because the ill woman worked around the sick and elderly. "Anytime there is influenza in a nursing home, even the regular influenza, it is a concern," she said. This is "equally or more of a concern."
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Health officials won't provide the woman's age or other identifying information. They said she was seen in a local emergency room Tuesday night, where the sample was taken and sent to the county's lab.
Ray Bullick, Tulare County's director of health services, confirmed the woman worked at Porterville Convalescent Hospital and that health officials were attempting to identify those she may have come in contact with.
He said the county hopes to get test results from the state over the weekend that will determine whether the woman has the swine flu virus.
Meanwhile, Mountain View Elementary School in Visalia remains closed.
Doug Bartsch, Visalia Unified's area administrator for elementary schools, said he is awaiting word from the Tulare County Health Department on when the school can reopen.
"We are eager to get back to educating children," he said. "We realize it's a disruption to families."
Tulare County's lab, busy in recent days, processed 133 flu samples on Wednesday. The county also received a supply of the antiviral medication Tamiflu on Wednesday night. It will be sent to an undisclosed location and made available to indigent patients and those who otherwise would not have access to medication.
As of Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 109 cases of the swine flu virus. California public health officials said they have 16 cases confirmed in the state. Based on earlier numbers, the CDC reported 14 cases in the state Thursday. More than 40 probable cases await further testing. This includes the two Tulare County cases.
So far, Fresno, Kings and Madera counties have no probable or confirmed cases.
Concern about the spread of the flu has forced school closures nationwide and emptied store shelves of face masks and hand sanitizers.
A Fresno Target store was depleted of face masks over the weekend and hand sanitizer by Thursday. "We ran out of the big bottles of sanitizer Wednesday," said store manager Samantha Cole. The smaller bottles near checkout stands were gone Thursday.
Face masks have been worn by some students while at school, prompting Fresno Unified School District officials to contact parents to discourage the practice.
Susan Bedi, district spokeswoman, said the masks create a false sense of protection and aren't effective against the virus, something the CDC has pointed out. They also are a distraction in school, she said.
School officials also have been busy quelling rumors as fear about the flu spreads.
Text messages forwarded by cell phone ran rampant among Fresno, Clovis and Visalia students and their parents. The messages said swine flu cases had been confirmed in several schools that would be shut down. District staff had to inform parents -- sometimes with automated phone messages and e-mails -- that the messages were false.
Some closures did occur.
West Hills Community College in Coalinga closed its Avenal State preschool Thursday after a sibling of one student was diagnosed with flulike symptoms. There is no indication the child has swine flu; those in charge of the 88-student preschool said they did it as a precaution.
"Three- and 4-year-olds put everything in their mouths and we would rather err on the side of caution than risk the health of children," director Kathy Watts said.
The scare over the potential spread of swine flu forced the cancellation of some community events.
Pacific Service Credit Union canceled its Child Safety Day event planned for Saturday at its north Fresno branch. The event brings together police, fire and hospital officials for free fingerprinting and other safety lessons and typically attracts more than 400 people, said Ben Kmetz, a spokesman for the Walnut Creek-based credit union. In Hanford, an asthma health fair planned for Sunday was also called off. Both events will be rescheduled, officials said.