Friday, May 1, 2009

Virginia health officials on Thursday confirmed two cases of swine flu in the state, the first cases of the virus in the region.

The confirmed cases were announced as Maryland health officials reported two new probable cases, bringing the state’s total to eight - a figure that includes three family members of an Obama administration aide.

The White House said Thursday that a Maryland man who works for the administration is suspected of contracting swine flu during a stay in Mexico in advance of President Obama’s brief trip there earlier last month. Health officials think the man passed the virus to three of his family members in Anne Arundel County. The White House said the man has since made a full recovery.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs did not identify the man but said that he began to feel ill on April 16 and had a fever on April 17, the day the president arrived in Mexico. The man returned to the United States April 18. He visited his brother on April 19 and his nephew became ill, and within the next two days the man’s wife and son also fell ill.

The Virginia Department of Health said the two patients diagnosed with swine flu in the state are a man from eastern Virginia and a woman from central Virginia. State Health Commissioner Karen Remley said each had traveled to Mexico, both had mild illnesses and are recovering well, and neither required hospitalization. Neither patient is a student, she said.

In addition, about 80 employees of the World Bank in the District were asked to work from home Thursday after an employee who lives in Maryland was preliminarily diagnosed with the virus.

The man was one of two suspected cases reported in the state Thursday.

Frances B. Phillips, Maryland’s deputy secretary for health and mental hygiene, said the two new cases involve a 53-year-old man in Montgomery County and a 40-year-old woman in Baltimore County. She said both patients are thought to have contracted the virus during recent travels outside the United States. Neither patient was hospitalized, and the Montgomery County man is thought to have made a full recovery, state officials said.

The Montgomery County man is the parent of two public school students, and his wife is a public school teacher. School administrators informed the parents of students at schools that might have come into contact with the family members - Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Westland Middle School in Bethesda and Takoma Park Elementary School - about the situation via phone message on Thursday morning.

The man’s wife and children were advised to remain at home for the next few days as a precaution. None have shown any flu-like symptoms, health officials say.

The two new suspected cases will be added to three suspected cases in Baltimore County and three other suspected cases in Anne Arundel County, which include two school-aged children.

One student attends Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park and the other goes to Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County. There are no plans to close the two schools. Health officials said test results to determine whether the cases are swine flu are not expected before Friday.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said that the uptick in suspected cases was not a surprise.

“As we announced earlier this week, the rise in probable swine flu cases was not unexpected,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.”

Swine flu, named H1N1 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has spread quickly across the country and around the globe, and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of more than 150 people in Mexico, where the outbreak reportedly started. At least 109 cases have been confirmed nationwide in 16 states.

John M. Colmers, state secretary of health and mental hygiene, defended the state’s preparedness to combat the outbreak after a December report that ranked Maryland last in the country in its readiness to deal with a health emergency. Mr. Colmers said sometimes the data for such reports are based on incomplete or false information.

“You have to really look behind the numbers with these things. We feel very confident that we are prepared and we are doing the best that we can to protect the population of Maryland,” he said.

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