Swine flu continues to spread in the state, with 13 confirmed and probable cases in eight counties outside of New York City, where it first appeared a week ago, state Health Department officials said Friday.
The disease is now in Chautauqua, Cortland, Lewis, Monroe, Onondaga, Orange and Westchester counties, in addition to New York City and Long Island
Two samples from Schenectady County and one from Albany County tested negative. Schenectady County officials said Friday they have no other suspected cases of the disease.
Terrayne Stortz, Saratoga County’s director of preventive health services, said the county has a suspected case of the virus and sent out a specimen to be tested Thursday. Tests take about 48 hours to complete.
State Health Commissioner Richard Daines said Friday the state has 78 confirmed and probable cases of swine flu, with 65 of those cases in New York City and Long Island and the rest distributed among upstate counties.
The state to date has tested 93 specimens from counties outside of New York City, with 60 of them testing negative, 24 testing positive for regular seasonal flu and 13 positive for swine flu. (There are 97 results on the 93 specimens because preliminary tests can come back positive for both seasonal and swine flu. A second test is done when a preliminary test is positive.)
Daines said the disease is showing up in counties “we have not seen before. This tells us it will show up across the state.”
The disease has forced the closures of eight schools, five in New York City and three in Onondaga and Chautauqua counties, said Gov. David Paterson.
“No one is seriously ill,” Paterson said.
Daines said the state continues to monitor the situation closely and has stayed ahead of events by enacting emergency preparedness plans developed for such contingencies. “We have responded swiftly,” he said.
The state is working with counties to provide them with specimen collection and detection kits and to ensure they have adequate supplies of antiviral medications, Daines said.
Paterson said he expects the World Health Organization to raise the current pandemic alert from phase 5 to 6, indicating the disease has reached global proportions. WHO reports 13 countries have officially reported 365 cases of the swine flu. The United States has close to 200 confirmed cases and one death attributable to swine flu.
Paterson said should WHO raise the alert, it is not to create an alarm but to indicate the virus has become widespread and to highlight the H1N1 virus’ little-known nature.
“There is cause for concern but not for alarm. The concern is that the characteristics of the virus are unknown. It is a previously unidentified strain,” Paterson said.
Paterson called the strain of swine flu in the United States not as virulent as the current strains of seasonal flus. “But because of its unknown nature, we are not sure how it will react. For now, it is responding to treatment,” he said.
Paterson said part of the problem is the outbreak is overlapping the tail end of the regular flu season. Both flus share similar respiratory symptoms.