Health & Medicine

Probable flu case in Lexington

A Fayette County man has Kentucky's second probable case of swine flu in as many days, health officials said Friday.

Dr. Melinda Rowe, Fayette County's health commissioner, said the middle-aged man is resting at home and that he and members of his family are receiving anti-viral drugs to combat the flu. Family members are voluntarily staying home from work and other activities to guard against spreading the infection, Rowe said.

Health officials did not release the man's name or where he works.

According to Fayette county officials, the man visited Alabama over the weekend, returned home Sunday night and developed flu-like symptoms Tuesday evening. Based on a preliminary lab test in Frankfort, a test sample from the patient was sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday to be analyzed for swine flu.

Results are expected early next week; most probable cases nationally have proved to be swine flu.

Dr. William Hacker, the state health commissioner, said colleagues of the man have been contacted and have received public health advice.

Meanwhile, Hacker said authorities are taking a number of precautions for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, such as making hand-washing stations available at locations around Churchill Downs. Workers at the track also will be on the lookout for individuals who appear to be sick, he said.

Considering the size of the crowd expected for Derby, Hacker said he is "confident that there are people at Churchill Downs who have been in contact with other people who have this virus."

He declined to say whether people the Lexington man worked with will attend the Derby.

Health officials continue to advise people to cover their coughs or sneezes; monitor themselves for symptoms such as fever, headache and coughs; stay at home if they feel sick; and call a doctor if they develop severe symptoms.

"As we see more cases, our advice may change. But right now ... we see no reason to stop mass congregations of people," Hacker said.

The announcement at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department offices followed confirmation Thursday that an infant in Western Kentucky has a probable case of flu, and that a woman from the Bowling Green area has a confirmed case of swine flu in Georgia.

The woman recently had visited Mexico, and the child had been near a relative who had been to Mexico. But Fayette officials said the latest patient has gone nowhere out of state recently other than to Alabama.

Hacker said health authorities were not surprised to see another case, and that more are likely. The public should take precautions, but remain calm, he stressed.

The best precaution?

"Wash your hands; wash your hands; wash your hands," Rowe declared.

Most swine flu cases in the United States so far have been relatively mild. But Hacker, who attended the news conference in Lexington, said the main health concern now is that the new flu strain could mutate into a more aggressive form in the coming weeks and months.

"It may burn itself out, or it may become worse," he said. "There is nothing we can do to alter the course this virus is going to follow."

Hacker noted that flu viruses typically decline during the summer months, when people spend more time outside, and then re-emerge in cooler weather as people move inside. Whether the new swine flu virus will do that remains to be seen, he said.

Two readily available anti-viral drugs can combat the swine flu, particularly if given within the first 48 hours of being sick, according to Rowe. The medicines can reduce the duration of illness and lessen symptoms, she said.

Kentucky is sending any suspected swine flu samples to the CDC for analysis, but Hacker said the state expects to have the necessary chemical re-agents available next week to start doing its own tests.

The Kentucky Department of Public Health says residents can keep track of the state flu situation online by going to www.healthalerts.ky.gov. The site has general flu information and will list any new cases as they develop, officials said.

Crissy Rowland, a spokeswoman for the Barren River District Health Department, which is following both Western Kentucky cases, said Friday that the department has received numerous calls from residents since the cases were announced Thursday.

"Mostly, it's people wanting basic information; so far there hasn't been any panic," she said.

Rowland said health officials still think the woman from the Bowling Green area was not contagious during the time she was in Kentucky before traveling to Georgia, where she became sick. The woman remains hospitalized. The Western Kentucky infant with suspected swine flu remains at home, Rowland said.

Meanwhile, schools, businesses and other organizations were watching the situation and making plans in case things get worse.

The Kentucky Department of Education sent school superintendents around the state a list of recommendations, ranging from instructing students and staffs in flu prevention to possibly closing schools if large numbers of flu cases appeared.

Department spokeswoman Lisa Gross stressed that there is no plan to close schools in any area now and that the recommendations are only to help education officials be prepared. She noted that Kentucky schools in many areas routinely shut down due to illness for brief periods during the winter flu season.

"This is pretty much standard procedure any time flu season comes around," she said. "This is not anything that should cause anyone to panic."

Herald-Leader staff writer Scott Sloan contributed to this report.

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