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School district monitoring swine flu

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By Jenny Arnold

The Lancaster County School District is monitoring reports of the swine flu after two schools in the state have been closed.

Lab results released Thursday confirmed that 13 South Carolinians have the swine flu virus. The lab results were announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 13 people who have the virus are all associated in some way with a recent school trip to Mexico, according to a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control press release.

The trip was sponsored by Newberry Academy in Newberry.

Dr. Jerry Gibson, chief of DHEC’s Bureau of Disease Control, said the 13 with the virus have been asked to voluntarily isolate themselves for a short time.

Anyone who was exposed to them is also asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves at home.

Those in isolation will receive appropriate care, Gibson said.

So far, DHEC has tested 22 residents for the virus.

South Carolina is the 11th state in which cases of swine flu have been confirmed.

David Knight, spokesman for the Lancaster County School District, said school officials are keeping in touch with

DHEC and Lancaster County Emergency Management about the spread of the virus.

Right now, the district isn’t sending out any information to parents, but will if the illness is confirmed here, as it did when several staph infections, or MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus),  were confirmed among school district students in the 2007-08 school year.

“There’s so much media attention that parents are aware of it,” Knight said. “Everyone’s using pretty good judgment.”`

On Wednesday, the Fort Worth, Texas, school district closed its 144 schools until at least May 8, a move that affects 80,000 students.

The CDC and officials in several states have confirmed at least 116 cases of swine flu in the United States. They are in New York, Texas, California, South Carolina and scattered cases in Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Minnesota, Colorado, Georgia and Maine, according to the Associated Press.

South Carolina has 435,000 doses of antiviral courses – 10 pills per course – on hand, according to DHEC. The federal government stockpiles these drugs for emergencies and has reserved an additional 640,000 treatment courses for the state. Federal officials will send about 140,000 of those courses soon, DHEC officials said.

There is no way to know how long the outbreak will last, but health officials expect the virus “to be around for quite some time,” according to DHEC.

In a speech on his 100th day in office, President Barack Obama pledged “great vigilance” in confronting the swine flu.

He recommended that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of the disease “strongly consider temporarily closing.”

But he ruled out closing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The flu is believed to have originated in Mexico, where the disease is suspected in 168 deaths, and nearly 2,500 illnesses.

Blocking the border, Obama said, “would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States.”

At a congressional hearing, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC sought to strike a balance: No one knows what the never-before-seen virus ultimately will do, but so far in most cases in the United States, people are recovering, without even needing a doctor’s care, the AP reported.

Laboratory testing shows the new virus is treatable by the anti-flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza.

Obama and his administration officials have been referring to the bug as the “H1N1 virus,” instead of “swine flu.”

Meat producers were afraid that the name swine flu could hurt the sales of pork. There is no evidence that you can get swine flu from eating pork.

Swine flu is spread from pig to pig, and can be spread from an infected pig to a human, and then from person to person. The first case of this new strain of flu occurred April 1 in a 4-year-old boy who lived near a pig farm east of Mexico City.

The World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, has raised its alarm to one notch below a full-fledged global pandemic. The swine flu has now been reported on four continents.

To help prevent the spread of the virus:

- Wash your hands thoroughly and often.

- Cover your cough with your sleeve, not your hand. The flu virus is spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing.

- Stay away from people who are sick.

- Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of rest.

- If you start to have symptoms of the flu, call your doctor or the Lancaster County Health Department at 286-9948.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Arnold at jarnold@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151