Swine flu case confirmed in Sitka

Case marks third in Southeast

Posted: Friday, June 12, 2009

Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital announced Thursday that tests had confirmed a patient at its urgent care clinic had been confirmed with swine flu, one of 14 cases so far identified in Alaska.

The patient is likely a Sitka resident, though many other Southeast residents also use the hospital, said Frank Sutton, vice-president for hospital services with the Southeast Regional Health Care Consortium.

Sutton declined to provide the patient's age and sex, but did say it was an urgent care case.

It's the third confirmation in Southeast Alaska, following a pre-teen boy in Haines and a man in his 20s in Skagway.

State health officials said they are not sure yet how the Mt. Edgecumbe patient contracted the virus.

Most of the state's 14 cases so far have been in the Fairbanks area, including the state's first. Several other cases aboard cruise ships in Alaska have been officially attributed to other states, where they were first confirmed.

In addition to the three Southeast cases, Alaska now has nine in the Interior and one each in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough.

The state has had little luck in linking most of its cases, said Dr. Beth Funk, state epidemiologist.

Both the Haines and Skagway cases were in patients thought to have contracted it out of state.

Four of the Fairbanks cases were in a single family, which had recently had a relative visit from out of state, said Greg Wilkinson, spokesman for the Division of Public Health.

"This is the first cluster we've had," he said.

State health officials have been unable to link other cases to a source, so the Fairbanks family was unique, Wilkinson said.

"This is the first time we can say, this case produced this case," he said.

Sutton urged people who think they may be suffering from swine flu to call their medical provider before seeking treatment, except in emergencies, to avoid infecting other patients in waiting rooms.

SEARHC spokesman Charles Bingham urged Southeast residents to avoid spreading the virus by staying home if they are sick. Adults should stay home at least five days, while children should stay home seven days.

He also recommended regular hand washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, using a tissue to cover coughs or sneezes and then promptly throwing away the tissue.

If a tissue isn't available, cough or sneeze into an elbow or upper sleeve instead of a hand.

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