Texas cancels high school athletics as flu cases grow to 16

Fort Worth Star-TelegramApril 29, 2009 

AUSTIN — Texas officials ratched up their response to the swine flu outbreak Wednesday, with the governor declaring a disaster in Texas and the state acquiring more antiviral medication. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grew to 16 in Texas.

The unusual form of influenza has killed one child in Texas, and health officials revealed at a press conference Wednesday that another toddler and a pregnant woman, both of whom are critically ill, are likely infected as well.

The new cases are unconfirmed by the CDC, but officials believe their sickness is related to the outbreak, which is causing fears of a global pandemic, said State Health Commissioner Dr. David Lakey on Wednesday at a press conference with Governor Rick Perry and other state officials.

Officials did not identify where the new cases were located because family members were still being contacted. The ill toddler is 23 months old, Lakey said. The pregnant woman's child was delivered by emergency cesarean section and was doing well.

“The mother, however, is in critical condition,” Lakey said. “Our thoughts and prayers are really with these families right now.”

Even as they delivered that news, officials at the press conference urged Texans to keep perspective, reminding them that the majority of people in the U.S. who have fallen ill have only suffered mild symptoms and that state’s influenza pandemic response plan was well-rehearsed and in full motion.

“We have not only rehearsed this plan repeatedly, we have honed our team approach to disaster management during our response to numerous storms and wildfires and floods,” said Perry, who also announced a disaster proclamation for the entire state. “There is no need to panic.”

The University Interscholastic League announced that it will postpone athletic competitions, suspending the baseball season and eliminating the regional track championship.

Fears of swine flu have caused “a handful of districts” to voluntarily close, affecting about 53,000 students statewide, said Robert Scott, Texas Education Agency commissioner.

“The vast majority of our public schools continue to operate normally,” he said. “That being said, we want to send a message that there will be no penalty for any district - financial or academic - if they take the steps of closing a campus or district. We will offer waiver days for their school calendar to make sure they don’t have to make them up in the summer.”

Asked if the state would consider ordering all schools closed, Scott that could be considered at some point but “We’re not there yet.”

Swine Flu has been confirmed in seven countries. Ninety-one cases in the U.S. are confirmed, Lakey said.

Officials expect to find more hospitalized victims of swine flu, as well as additional deaths, as the outbreak develops, Lakey said. The severity of illness in the pregnant woman has officials working closely with federal health officials on how to address the risk for pregnant women, who are more susceptible to all types of influenza.

“Women who are pregnant and have been in contact with someone who has swine flu need to be put on the appropriate medications,” he said.

Perry called his disaster proclamation a step that “raises Texas to a higher state of alert and releases resources to address to the spread of this virus.”

Those resources included the CDC approving his request for 25 percent – 850,000 courses – of the Texas allotment of antiviral medication from the CDCs Strategic National Stockpile to be prepositioned in the state.

This request augments more than 840,000 courses of antiviral medication on hand in Texas following a purchase authorized by Gov. Perry and the 80th Legislature in 2007.

If a flu outbreak turned into a pandemic, Texas could be hit hard.

If 15 percent of Tarrant County’s population fell ill, it could lead to an estimated 2,674 hospitalizations and 546 deaths, according to a 2009 report by Tarrant County Public Health. A pandemic of the same intensity as the one in 1918 could kill 1,818.

A severe pandemic could kill an estimated 146,000 in the state and make nearly 6.8 million sick, according to a 2008 report on preparedness by the nonprofit Trust for American Health. The potential financial loss could exceed $55 billion.

During a flu pandemic, Texas would need about 5.5 million doses of antiviral medication to treat 25 percent of its residents, said Serena Vinter, the organization’s senior research associate. The federal government has provided 3.3 million dosages to the state. Texas bought additional dosages at a discounted price negotiated by the federal government, but less than half of its share, she said.

"If this did turn into a pandemic, Texas would not have enough antiviral," Vinter said.

Asked about the unaqcuired supply of antiviral, Lakey said that “there were additional antivirals that could have been available.”

“A lot of us met together to decide what would be prudent...to meet the needs. And after a lot of conversations that was the amount that we determined to be prudent.”

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