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Six influenza cases in Bee County ‘most likely’ H1N1
by Scott Reese Willey
May 07, 2009 | 1035 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Miguel Sierra-Hoffman
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The number of influenza cases in Bee County and around the country continues to grow, and is “highly suspicious” at this time of year, a Beeville physician reported Monday.

Indeed, influenza cases are so rare at this time of year in the United States that those who have the flu most likely have the dreaded swine flu variety, said Dr. Miguel Sierra-Hoffman, who specializes in infectious disease and pulmonary care.

He expects the Center for Disease Control is expected to make a similar announcement this week.

As the only infectious disease specialist between Corpus Christi, Houston and San Antonio, Dr, Sierra-Hoffman is in daily communication with the Center for Disease Control, which is tracking the growth of the so-called swine flu epidemic sweeping the globe.

“It is very rare to see Type A influenza in the United States or Bee County at this time of year,” he said. “So for practical purposes (the CDC) is changing the definition of ‘probable, suspected and confirmed’ and bumping them up. Under the new definitions, any probable cases will become suspected cases and any suspected cases will become confirmed cases.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, six people in Bee County have suspected cases of swine flu, he reported.

All six have confirmed cases of Type A influenza, and not Type B or Type C, which typically are nonlethal to healthy adults, said Dr. Sierra-Hoffman.

Type A influenza has two branches, one that is generally nonlethal to healthy people and is known as H1N3, and one branch that contains the H1N1 genetic code, known more commonly as swine flu.

Dr. Sierra-Hoffman said swabs of the six patients’ mucous or saliva have been forwarded to the CDC in Atlanta, Ga., for further testing to see if they contain the H1N1 virus.

However, the doctor said, there are thousands of suspected cases of swine flu nationwide, and the CDC laboratory is swamped with test samples.

“There should be very few cases of Type A influenza at this time of year in the United States,” he said. “So for there to be thousands of suspected cases — thousands of cases we know are not Type B or Type C but are Type A — is highly suspicious. Therefore, for practical purposes, those cases are probably H1N1.”

Because of the backlog of samples and the unusual flu activity at this time of year, the CDC is changing the definition of the “confirmed cases” in hopes of warning the public, he said.

“I suspect that sometime (Wednesday) or later this week the number of confirmed cases will quadruple because of the new definitions adopted by the CDC,” he added.

During his daily phone conference with the CDC, Dr. Sierra-Hoffman learned that there were 41 confirmed cases of H1N1, or swine flu, in Texas and 403 confirmed cases in the United States. On Tuesday, a 33-year-old schoolteacher from Harlingen, who taught in the Mercedes Independent School District, became the first U.S. citizen to die from the swine flu.

Swine flu has sickened hundreds of people in Mexico, where it is thought to have originated, and is believed to have killed dozens.

“Right now we have six suspected cases of swine flu in Bee County, but under the CDC’s new definition I believe that all six cases will become confirmed cases of swine flu,” he said. “That is what I think will happen. And that is simply because it is very rare to see Type A influenza in Bee County in the month of May. It is too hot. To have six cases in May is highly suspicious. To have thousands of flu cases in May is extremely unlikely.”

Even if the cases are confirmed, Bee County residents shouldn’t fear the worse, said David Morgan, the emergency management coordinator for the city of Beeville and Bee County.

“Currently, the Department of State Health Services has said that the current confirmed cases appear to be mild to moderate and have not required hospitalization,” Morgan said. “In addition, standard treatments seem to be effective.”

And if the spread of the swine flu virus slows during the summer months and returns in the fall with a vengeance, as some in the medical field predict, then Bee County

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