And medical experts agree that the number of swine flu cases will likely grow once school resumes and cold weather arrives.
“There is a swine flu epidemic in the United States. It is here,” said Beeville physician Miguel Sierra-Hoffman, who specializes in infectious disease and pulmonary care. “People need to be aware that we do have a swine flu epidemic and they need to know that we will probably see more cases when children return to school.”
Swine flu spreading
Kim Montgomery, RN, who is the infectious disease control officer for Christus Spohn Hospital Beeville, said 10 confirmed cases of swine flu have been reported in Beeville since the outbreak last March in Mexico.
None of those victims have had any complications from the potentially deadly strain of influenza, Dr. Sierra-Hoffman reported.
One of those 10 people is presently being treated for swine flu, Montgomery acknowledged.
And 33 other people in Bee County may presently have swine flu, she said.
Montgomery said Christus Spohn Hospital Beeville has sent blood and saliva samples of those 33 people to the Center for Disease Control for analysis.
According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., 23 people in Mexico have died from swine flu and 353 people have died from swine flu in the United States — 23 of them in Texas.
More than 5,000 people who have contracted swine flu have been hospitalized in the United States, the CDC reported.
Cases in Coastal Bend
Nueces County has had 85 confirmed cases of swine flu, and one person — an otherwise healthy woman — died from swine flu last week, the state health department reported.
Two people have died from swine flu in Victoria, said Dr. Sierra-Hoffman, the only infectious disease specialist between Corpus Christi and San Antonio and east to Houston.
“Of course, these are only the confirmed swine flu cases,” Dr. Sierra-Hoffman said. “We don’t know how many cases are not reported.”
He said the number of swine flu deaths in Mexico may actually be much higher but simply went unreported. Likewise, many people who contracted the potentially deadly virus in the United States simply “toughed it out” and never went to a doctor. Thus, the case was never reported, he said.
“The fact that we have had so many cases of swine flu in the United States this summer tells me we have an epidemic,” Dr. Sierra-Hoffman said. “We have had 10 confirmed cases of swine flu in Bee County. Usually, at this time of the year, we wouldn’t have any reported cases. If you look back at 2008, 2007 and 2006 you probably will not find any reported cases of swine flu in Bee County, or anywhere else in the United States. It is just not common at this time of the year. That is why I believe we have an epidemic, and it will probably get worse when it gets cold outside and the children return to school.”
Both Dr. Sierra-Hoffman and nurse Montgomery say they expect to see an increase in the number of swine flu cases nationwide and in Bee County in the weeks and months ahead.
“Right now it is summertime in the Northern Hemisphere and everybody is outside but once school starts and the cold weather arrives people will go inside — they will be closer together — and that will make them more susceptible to catching the disease,” Dr. Sierra-Hoffman explained.
“We don’t want to alarm people but we do want them to be aware of the situation and take necessary precautions to protect themselves,” she said.
Those precautions include getting their annual influenza vaccination, staying home from work or school if they suspect they may have the flu, preventing the spread of influenza by coughing into the crook of their arm and properly disposing of tissues.
Montgomery said a vaccine against H1N1 is presently being tested on humans and may be ready for distribution by mid- to late-October.
If such a vaccine becomes available, Montgomery recommends residents have themselves and their loved ones vaccinated if possible.