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Lee County case confirmed

By Staff | May 2, 2009

The Lee County Health Department confirmed Friday that a Spring Creek Elementary School child tested positive for H1N1, or swine flu.
The 11-year-old boy is the first person in Lee County, and the second in the state, to test positive for the influenza strain.
The Health Department, along with the Lee County School District, have effectively closed Spring Creek Elementary School for a week.
Officials from the two agencies said the closing is an attempt to keep the flu from spreading. There is currently one other Spring Creek student, a boy, who is suspected of having H1N1. Test results for the second child are due this weekend.
“We have reason to believe our second case will also be confirmed,” said Dr. Judith Hartner of the LCHD.
The confirmation comes just ahead of Gov. Charlie Crist asking for — and getting– a statewide public health emergency to help cope with the potential crisis.
This declaration allows the governor to lift pharmaceutical pedigree requirements as applicable to the wholesale distribution of prescription drugs Tamiflu and Relenza.
Dr. Hartner said the LCHD has received 36,000 “courses” of Tamiflu for adults, and 60 courses for children. According to Hartner, each course represents a 10-day supply of medicine.
County health officials are now playing a waiting game. Not only are they waiting to see if more Spring Creek students will become ill, but also faculty and staff.
Neither Hartner nor school spokesman Joe Donzelli have any idea how many other students came in contact with the child who tested positive. But the child was in school until last Wednesday.
Hartner said the only thing parents can do now is to practice good hygiene, and try to keep their kids from interacting with other children, especially if a child experiences flu-like symptoms.
“If the kids are congregating with kids in other places, we are defeating the purpose of closing the school,” Hartner said.
Reactions in Lee County and the Cape to the swine flu have been mixed.
Medical supply store Mobility Unlimited has completely sold out of its entire stock of surgical masks, while Southwest Florida Medical supply, which didn’t have any surgical masks stored, decided to stock up. They’re having little luck.
“We usually don’t stock them (the masks) because there’s not a big demand,” said Butch Verdacchia, SWFL medical supply’s manager. “We ordered some but we’re very doubtful about the shipment … it seems the whole country is out of them.”
Responses from people visiting the Cape Coral library on Friday were equally mixed.
Sue Baker, mother of three children who attend Cape Coral schools, said she kept her kids out on Friday just to see where the swine flu might be heading.
“I kept my kids at home today because I didn’t want them to bring anything home,” Baker said. “If it affects any schools closer to the Cape, I might think about homeschooling them.”
Frank and Donna Kober took the opposite tact, citing the fact that thousands of people die every year from known strains of flu.
“It would have to be more widespread for us to really take notice,” Donna said. “I’m not ready to go out and buy a (surgical) mask just yet.”
While health officials play the waiting game with the second suspected case, many county operations are working at a level of high alert.
The county’s Emergency Operations Center is up and running. Lee Memorial Health System’s doctors are closely watching not only local, but state and federal officials for updates.
Officials at the Port Authority and the airport are operating at much the same level, encouraging their employees to diligently practice the same hygiene method being recommended by the health department.
Airport spokeswoman Vickie Moreland said it’s been “business as usual” at Southwest Florida international, and that she has only seen one person walking through the terminal with a surgical mask on.
“We’re telling out employees to do what’s necessary, to exercise the same guideline as local, state, and federal health officials,” Moreland said. “There are been no other initiatives by authorities to take any other action at the airport.”
Exactly how the Spring Creek child came into contact with H1N1 has health officials puzzled.
According to Hartner, neither the boy nor his family traveled out of Lee County during their spring break. The child is “recovering nicely”, and did not exhibit symptoms severe enough to be taken out of school earlier last week.
Hartner added that closing the school, while disruptive, is essential because of the greater transmission risk the school poses. And while the H1N1 strain is still mild, there’s no assurance it will stay that way.
“We don’t know that it will continue to be mild,” Hartner said. “And we have no vaccination to beat the strain.”
Spring Creek Elementary School in Bonita Springs will remain closed for one week until further notice. If more students at the school become ill, it could affect the reopen date.
For more information on the Lee County School District call 334-1102.
A live flu hotline has been established in Lee County at 461-6180. A statewide hotline, open 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. can be reached at 1-800-342-3557.