UCSF Officials Monitor Worldwide Outbreak of Swine Flu

April 29, 2009
Contact: News Office (415) 502-6397

UCSF Medical Center and campus officials continue to monitor national, state and local health reports following a worldwide outbreak of swine flu, including 14 confirmed human cases in California.

Swine flu is an epidemic respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus, typically the H1N1 or H3N2 strain. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, but sporadic human infections do occur. Since 2005, 12 human cases of swine flu have been detected in the United States and all patients recovered.

As of April 29, a total of 91 cases of swine flu infection have been confirmed in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The nation’s first fatality from this outbreak has been reported in Texas.

As of April 27, the Government of Mexico has reported 18 laboratory confirmed human cases of swine influenza infection. Investigation is continuing to clarify the spread and severity of the disease in Mexico.

The CDC reports "additional confirmed human infections, hospitalizations and the nation's first fatality from this outbreak. The more recent illnesses and the reported death suggest that a pattern of more severe illness associated with this virus may be emerging in the U.S. Most people will not have immunity to this new virus and, as it continues to spread, more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths are expected in the coming days and weeks."

The CDC is posting regular updates on its Web site at www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.

On Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in California, where probable cases of swine flu have been reported in three Bay Area counties.

Meanwhile on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the alert warning from level three to level four on the WHO's six-level threat scale, a ranking that means officials have determined the virus is capable of significant human-to-human transmission.

Currently, no cases of swine flu have been reported at UCSF, according to registered Amy D. Nichols, director of UCSF's Epidemiology and Infection Control.

If a patient with flu-like symptoms presents to UCSF, clinicians are asked to follow the directions for specimen collection and submission to the San Francisco Department of Public Health lab and to notify UCSF Infection Control by calling the pager number (415) 443-2644. Health alerts, advisories and updates are available on the San Francisco Communicable Disease Health alert Web site at www.sfcdcp.org/healthalerts.

A team of UCSF Medical Center and campus leaders and experts in infectious disease, infection control, public health and occupational health are conferring daily to discuss the situation.

Top officials of the Obama administration on Sunday held a White House briefing saying that they are responding aggressively to the outbreak on multiple fronts. Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, said that the CDC is working very closely with officials in states where human cases of swine influenza have been identified, as well as with health officials in Mexico, Canada and the WHO.

The good news, Besser added, is that we're nearing end of the flu season, in which viruses tend to be easily transmitted. But he said that every outbreak is different.

On Sunday, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano declared a public health emergency in the United States, which is a standard operating procedure that allows funds and medications to be released in support of the public health response.

Napolitano said that the U.S. has 50 million antiviral drug courses in the strategic national stockpile, and that the federal government is releasing 25 percent of those courses and making them available to states where there are confirmed cases of swine flu.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is involved in testing livestock to ensure that there is no concern about the food supply, Napolitano said on Sunday. She pointed out that people cannot get swine flu from eating pork.

The most important precaution that people can take to avoid getting the flu is practicing proper hygiene practices, including regular hand washing and covering the mouth when coughing. People who have flu-like symptoms should not go to work or school.

Take these daily actions to stay healthy:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • If you get sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.