More links on swine flu in Iowa

Following up on noneed4thneed’s post about Marshalltown schools closing for a week because of six probable cases of swine flu (H1N1 virus) in Marshall County, I’ve posted more news about this disease in Iowa after the jump.

First, with all due respect to Senator Chuck Grassley, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and others who are urging us not to call the H1N1 virus “swine flu,” I am going to keep using the common shorthand reference for this virus, because

Scientists have traced the genetic lineage of the new H1N1 swine flu to a strain that emerged in 1998 in U.S. factory farms, where it spread and mutated at an alarming rate. Experts warned then that a pocket of the virus would someday evolve to infect humans, perhaps setting off a global pandemic.

The new findings challenge recent protests by pork industry leaders and U.S., Mexican and United Nations agriculture officials that industrial farms shouldn’t be implicated in the new swine flu, which has killed up to 176 people and on Thursday was declared an imminent pandemic by the World Health Organization.

“Industrial farms are super-incubators for viruses,” said Bob Martin, former executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Farm Production, and a long-time critic of the so-called “contained animal feeding operations.”

As Wired.com reported on Tuesday, geneticists studying the composition of viruses taken from swine flu victims described it as the product of a DNA swap between North American and Eurasian swine flu strains.

On Wednesday, Columbia University biomedical informaticist Raul Rabadan added new information on the virus’ family history in a posting to ProMed, a public health mailing list. His description paralleled that of other researchers who had analyzed the new strains, but with an extra bit of detail. Six of the genes in swine flu looked to be descended from “H1N2 and H3N2 swine viruses isolated since 1998.” […]

The new swine flu could have emerged in a myriad number of ways, passing between any number of birds and pigs and people, at locations across North America, during its evolutionary journey. It may well prove impossible to pinpoint exactly where it first emerged or became infectious to people. But most of its genes are almost certainly part of a North American industrial virus lineage long expected to produce pandemic variants like this one.

“We haven’t found evidence of infected pigs,” said Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist and member of the World Health Organization’s surveillance network. “But even if we never find that smoking pig, we can surmise that this is probably where it came from.”

As I wrote on Thursday, there’s no need to stop eating pork. However, for the sake of the environment, public health and animal welfare, I encourage you to seek out pork that has not been factory farmed. (Here’s a good source for people in central Iowa.)

Now, back to the news.

On Saturday Governor Chet Culver

declared a public health emergency in Iowa after the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the first case of H1N1 influenza in Iowa. The results of a second probable case reported on Wednesday have come back negative.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reports that a total of seven additional probable cases in the state are undergoing confirmatory testing.

[…]

The first confirmed case involves a southeast Iowa adult female who became ill last week after returning from Mexico. She traveled through Johnson, Des Moines and Muscatine counties.

Of the current probable H1N1 flu cases, six are located in Marshall County (this includes the one new probable case reported on Friday) and one in Tama County.

The Governor’s public health disaster declaration gives the state additional flexibility that may be needed to carry out the work of protecting the health of Iowans by allowing for several provisions, including:

* The purchase, storage and distribution of additional antivirals and other medical supplies.

* The deployment of public health response teams to supplement and support overburdened local medical and public health personnel, hospitals and resources.

* The adoption of reasonable measures, as necessary, to prevent the transmission of infectious disease and to ensure that all identified cases are properly controlled and treated.

* Possible isolation of individuals or groups of individuals if necessary.

In addition to signing a public health disaster declaration, Governor Culver and the Iowa Department of Public Health have taken a number of actions in response to the H1N1 flu situation:

* IDPH’s emergency coordination center in the Lucas Building has been activated.

* IDPH is sharing information regularly with local public health officials, health care providers, other state agencies, federal agencies and private partners.

* IDPH has received a shipment of federal assets, which include anti-viral medications and personal protective equipment.

* The Iowa Department of Public Safety is coordinating with IDPH to ensure the safe storage and transportation of the state’s antiviral supply. […]

An influenza hotline – 1-800-447-1985 – has been established to answer public questions about the disease. A separate hotline for health care providers is available at 1-866-282-5815. More information on swine influenza is also available at http://www.governor.iowa.gov and http://www.idph.state.ia.us.

Governor Culver announced at a press conference on Friday that

State officials have identified a third probable case of the swine flu or H1N1 virus in Iowa, this time a man Marshall County, and have ordered state troopers to guard the state’s supply of anti-virals and help distribute them. […]

Testing at the CDC’s national laboratory is taking longer than state officials had expected because of a backlog of cases from around the country.

Iowa Department of Public Health Director Tom Newton said it is now taking states 2-4 days to get results back.

Newton stressed that the disease being experienced by people in the United States is still quite mild but could change as the outbreak continues.

“People need to make sure they are striking a balance between taking precautions to protect themselves and loved ones while we learn about this new flu strain while still not causing undue alarm,” Newton said.

Newton said one of the probable cases included the possible exposure to more than 50 residents at a long-term care facility. Local public health officials provided anti-virals to those who were possibly exposed.

I received a statement from Congressman Dave Loebsack’s office on Saturday, containing information about the influenza hotline and what Iowans can do to reduce their risk of contracting the flu. Excerpt:

“H1N1 has been spreading across the country, and I am concerned but not surprised that it has reached  Iowa ,” said Congressman Loebsack. “Today the CDC has confirmed that an individual in Eastern  Iowa has an H1N1 infection. I will continue to work with local leaders to make sure that every precaution is being taken to help prevent the spread of this disease. Iowans should remain cautious but there is no cause for panic. The most important thing that Iowans can do right now is to remain calm, take proper health precautions, and follow the advice of health professionals. We are prepared to address this situation and existing resources such as funding for state and local public health officials and an existing stockpile of antivirals have already been deployed to states.”

If you’ve been following the news this week, you may have noticed that officials have been quick to update the media on the current status of swine flu tests and counter-measures in Iowa. Culver himself spoke at press conferences on Wednesday and Friday.

On the other hand, if you are a paranoid conservative, you may be looking for any hint that Democratic officials are hiding something important from the public. Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican blog provided a window onto this mindset on Friday, when he posted a story with the alarmist headline,

Swine Flu Outbreak in Clinton, Iowa? State Troopers on a “Top Secret” Mission

Thanks to the Bleeding Heartland reader who sent me a screen shot from The Iowa Republican showing the original headline. Excerpt from Robinson’s story:

The Iowa Republican has learned from an eye witness that five state troopers were seen loading boxes into a small plane at the Ankeny Airport just after 11 a.m. this morning.

The plane’s tail number is N9758H. The FAA registry shows that the plane is Cessna 182R fixed wing single engine plane. The FAA registry shows that the plane is owned by the state of Iowa.

This is a small plane that only seats three to four people. According to the Cessna website, the plane has a range of 1070 miles. The Ankeny airport is located 22 miles south of the USDA labs in Ames, Iowa.

Knowing that the plane only has a short range, it is unlikely that this plane transporting flu samples to the CDC labs in Atlanta. The Iowa Republican’s eye witness said that his pilot told him that the State Troopers would not tell the appropriate people what was going on. The said it was, “Top secret.” The pilot also believed that the state plane was headed to Clinton.

A commenter soon informed Robinson that earlier in the day, Governor Culver had announced plans to distribute anti-virals around the state, and the Des Moines Register had already reported on its website, “Hundreds of thousands of doses of antiviral medications are being delivered to local and county health agencies around Iowa. The medications are to be distributed if the outbreak becomes widespread. State troopers have been accompanying the shipments to ensure security.”

Robinson later slightly edited the story and changed the headline to

Troopers Transport Anti-Virals to Clinton and Des Moines Counties

However, Robinson defended his suspicion in a reply to his critical commenter, saying,

This story is about our state government flying these medications to two counties where there have been reported cases. Why the urgency to use an airplane for these two counties? I also understand the need to use the state troopers to ensure security of the shipment, but do you need five of them? It was a troubling scene I was told.

Somehow I suspect that if the state had driven the antivirals to Clinton and Des Moines counties, conservatives would find it “troubling” that officials could not find a faster way to get the medicine to the sites of suspected swine flu infections.

Please share any relevant thoughts in this thread.  

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