Swine flu in S.C.: 10 probable, 41 suspected cases

A man wearing a mask over this mouth carries a similarly masked statue of Saint Jude, the saint of lost causes, Tuesday at a church in Mexico City. Swine flu is believed to have killed more than 150 people in Mexico, and its capital city has seen public i

South Carolina has 10 probable cases of swine flu, up from two probable cases Tuesday.

All of the 10 people who appear to have flu are associated in some way with a recent student trip to Mexico, health authorities said. A dozen Newberry Academy students and chaperones traveled to Mexico for a senior trip, and many fell ill upon return.

Dr. Jerry Gibson with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said Wednesday the number of suspected cases has doubled to 41. He said 72 people who have had contact with the 10 people are being treated with antivirals preventively.

Suspected cases are people with flu-like symptoms who think they have been exposed, but test results are still pending. Probable cases are incidents where a novel virus has been detected but must be confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Results are taking longer than expected because of the volume of cases, Gibson said.

Suspected and probable cases have been asked to voluntarily isolate themselves. Anyone who was exposed to them is asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves at home. Those in isolation will receive appropriate care, Gibson said.

Two types of flu tests are available. Rapid flu tests can be done in a doctor's office with results in 30 minutes, but these tests only tell the type of virus, not the strain.

Culture tests, which identify virus strain and subtype, are done by DHEC in Columbia and only for patients who meet certain criteria. Patients may get cultured if they have flu-like illness, a travel history to a hot zone or contact with a confirmed case, and a positive rapid flu test for Type A.

Lab kits for cultures are going fast, he said, with kits already being rationed. Doctors are urged to buy more rapid flu tests that can be done in the office but do not identify the strain of virus.

Rationing of resources was among the topics discussed Monday by the S.C. Pandemic Influenza Ethics Task Force in North Charleston. The group's goal is to establish statewide standards of care by consensus among the many health care organizations and agencies at a state summit this summer.

"We are in a pre-pandemic," Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, said in a phone conference Tuesday. "I would say I'm very concerned."

The virulence of the virus is still under debate among experts. A death rate on par with seasonal flu could bring an additional 200 to 500 deaths to South Carolina.

Read more in tomorrow's editions of The Post and Courier.