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Fourth case of swine flu confirmed in Alaska

State suspends daily announcements as reports become more common

Posted: Sunday, June 07, 2009

Alaska tallied its fourth official swine flu case Thursday, but it may have actually been the state's first case.

State Department of Health and Social Services officials said Friday that a sample taken May 15 has been tested and confirmed as the novel H1N1 swine flu virus. State officials had earlier announced the first case on May 28, also of a sample taken earlier.

Three of the state's confirmed cases have come from Interior Alaska; the fourth was a Haines boy. All have since recovered.

An additional swine flu case aboard a cruise ship in Alaska was credited to Washington, where it was confirmed as swine flu after the patient had left for Alaska.

The May 15 case was confirmed Thursday after a sample taken earlier was retested, said Greg Wilkinson, spokesman for the state health department.

Despite the presence of three cases in the Interior, state health officials say they have not been able to find any connections between them.

"We have no epidemiological link between any of the state's cases, we've seen no clustering, and we've not even seen multiple cases within a single family," Wilkinson said.

The Haines boy had recently traveled to Seattle, officials said. Washington has had a large number of cases.

The department also announced Friday they would no longer make individual announcements when new cases were identified. Instead, a web page listing would be updated on regular business days.

The state's chief medical officer, Dr. Jay Butler, said Thursday that more cases of swine flu are expected in Alaska.

"The presence of novel H1N1 in Alaska is really the 'new normal'," he said.

"We will continue to see more of the H1N1 flu cases confirmed around the state throughout the summer and into the fall.

The virus is less dangerous than first thought, but health officials say simple precautions should be taken to prevent its spread, including frequent hand washing and covering coughs.

Friday, the department announced that Butler would be resigning to join the Centers for Disease Control's response to the swine flu outbreak.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin will take over the state's swine flu response, Wilkinson said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com



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