Richmond lab to help with swine flu results

April 28, 2009 1:30:43 PM PDT
A Richmond lab is gearing up to help public health doctors in California identify swine flu cases more quickly. Currently flu samples have to go all the way across the country to CDC labs in Atlanta, but, that's about to change.

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In the Bay Area, as many as 40 residents are showing swine flu symptoms and are waiting for test results. About 20 people have sought treatment at Santa Cruz County clinics for flu-like symptoms, and in Santa Clara County, a dozen people have been tested for the virus.

Results should come much swifter now that all samples do not have to go cross-country. The Department of Health Services Lab in Richmond is going to start running tests locally for the swine flu virus. This is expected to help slow any infections from spreading.

The state's Department of Public Health has activated its emergency operations center in Sacramento. Officials at that facility will determine where California's allotment of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu will go.

In the Bay Area, the state lab in Richmond will examine samples sent in by local doctors to determine if any of their patients have the swine flu. That can help keep small outbreaks from getting bigger.

"Well right now we're actually feeling a little bit of hope because the cases in the United States have actually been pretty mild. And mild is good. What we don't want to see is severe cases where people end up being hospitalized, in the ICU, on ventilators -- like they've been seeing in Mexico," said Anthony Iton, MD, Alameda County Public Health Department.

Now as state officials test for the disease, many Bay Area pharmacies report they're getting more requests for Tamiflu. The CDC has released about 25 percent of the nation's stockpile of the anti-viral medicine to California, and that supply is going to be spread around the state.

Again, health officials are not calling this a pandemic and say so far the strain is treatable. People are urged to wash their hands often as one good way of defense against getting sick.

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