Last Friday, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services assured Alaska residents there was "no probable or confirmed cases" of the H1N1 swine flu virus in the state in its daily public update of the virus's spread.
At the time, a probable swine flu carrier was already in Juneau aboard the Serenade of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship typically carrying 2,200 passengers and more than 800 crew. It visited Mexico before coming to Juneau.
State Medical Officer Dr. Jay Butler said state health officials knew there was a crew member aboard with symptoms of swine flu, though it was not lab confirmed.
Friday's update also said that "to date, no suspected influenza samples have been sent to the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in Atlanta for testing." The state had taken samples from the ship, but sent them to a Fairbanks laboratory.
Butler and other public health officials held a press conference on Sunday in Anchorage to announce that a female crew member aboard the Serenade of the Seas probably did have swine flu, based on testing done in Washington state. She is recovering, as do most people that catch the new flu strain.
Butler said there was little risk to anyone in Juneau from not knowing about the infection.
"We were told the patient was isolated in their cabin and on anti-viral medication," he said. "We don't even know that this person was infectious in Alaska."
Monday, the cruise ship was on its way through Icy Strait to Sitka, where local public safety and health authorities had been notified of its impending arrival, Butler said.
Juneau acting City Manager Kim Kiefer said Juneau received no such notification before the Serenade of the Seas arrived, but would not have taken action anyway.
"We wouldn't do anything," she said. "There really isn't much for us to do, they'd already quarantined the person."
Butler said there was no danger to those on board the ship or to the communities it is visiting.
"It's not ebola," he said. "The illness for most people is relatively mild."
While the CDC as of Monday afternoon had not confirmed the Washington test, the samples taken in Ketchikan came back negative, Butler said. That was expected since the patient had been on anti-viral medications for several days before.
Sunday's press conference wasn't held because of an immediate public health threat, Butler said.
"We thought people would be interested in knowing," he said.
Kiefer, who found out about the case Sunday, said the notification system seems to be working well.
"It's one case, but we want them to notify us. I'm really glad that they did," she said. "My take away is that the process is working."
The CDC has not validated the Washington lab's identification of swine flu, but Butler said that is almost certain to happen.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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