Newberry students likely have swine flu, state epidemiologist says

South Carolina state epidemiologist Jerry Gibson said he believes it is "fairly likely" that the suspected cases of swine flu in Newberry will be confirmed by test results later today.

"Because of the history, it’s fairly likely that that’s what they’ve got," Dr. Gibson said at a news briefing early Monday afternoon.

Gibson said 22 specimens have been taken to determine if the Newberry students who recently traveled to Mexico returned with the virus that has killed at least 80 people there.

The U.S. cases appear more mild than the ones in Mexico. There have been no deaths in the United States among the 20 confirmed cases, and Gibson said that’s not likely to change.

"The severity of this virus is very much like the severity of the regular seasonal virus," Gibson said.Those with confirmed swine flu - as well as those who have had close contact with them - should stay indoors until they have completed a full course of treatment, which takes five days.

Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control is working on a vaccine for the virus, Gibson said. That vaccine could take as long as six months to develop, however.

Gibson said people should take the same precautions they would use to avoid the regular flu virus - frequent hand-washing and avoiding large crowds.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control is on heightened awareness status, examining all flu outbreaks. Officials are communicating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, as well as physicians across the state, to closely watch for suspected cases in South Carolina.

Video | State epidemiologist discusses flu outbreak

DHEC’s Jim Beasley says people with symptoms could have seasonal flu, as the state’s flu season winds down. People with symptoms should contact their physicians, he said.South Carolina has stockpiles of anti-virals that have proven to be effective against swine flu once it is diagnosed - should they be needed, Beasley said.

City of Columbia officials will meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to be briefed on the city’s pandemic flu plan and how the city can support DHEC.DHEC would be the lead agency if there were an outbreak. USC also will play a role.

There’s no emergency as yet, but it’s prudent to be prepared, said Helmut Albrecht, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at USC.

Albrecht heads the Columbia Citywide Infectious Diseases Case Conference, which is designed to provide a venue for all infectious diseases experts in the city. Some 40 to 70 physicians, nurses, DHEC representatives and other specialists attend meetings throughout the year. The group next meets Tuesday night.

Other State newspaper staffers contributed.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC