Swine-flu worries on wane in Colorado | VailDaily.com

Swine-flu worries on wane in Colorado

Jennifer Brown
The Denver Post
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado “-It seems the swine-flu scare is petering out.

That’s not to say the infamous H1N1 virus has stopped spreading among Coloradans, just that state health authorities and the public are much less worried about it now than they were two weeks ago.

Confirmed cases of the virus, as well as flu-related trips to health clinics and emergency rooms, have tapered off in the past few days.

The number of cases in the state ” now at 52 ” jumped by 34 from May 3 to May 8. In the past five days, confirmed cases have risen by just 14.

Flu-related visits to the emergency room at Denver Health Medical Center spiked May 1, topping 100. The hospital still is seeing about 60 people with respiratory complaints each day, double the usual for this time of year, said Connie Price, chief of infectious diseases.

It’s unlikely swine flu is already fading out, she said. Instead, people are realizing they don’t need to see a doctor unless their symptoms are severe.

“The message is getting out to our community that this is mild,” Price said. “We don’t have to be alarmed. The best way to deal with this is take care of it like the seasonal influenza ” stay home if you are ill.”

Part of the reason the daily uptick in confirmed cases is slowing is that the state health department is no longer testing every suspected case. The state lab is focused now on hospitalized patients and health care workers, said Ned Calonge, the state’s chief medical officer.

Health officials want to know whether flu victims who were hospitalized have other health conditions, such as asthma, chronic disease or pregnancy. They also are interested in how the virus spreads among hospital workers, in case a more virulent strain returns in the fall.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is telling physicians not to send in specimens from people who aren’t hospitalized or who don’t work in health care.

“We’re telling clinicians there isn’t a compelling reason to know that you have H1N1,” Calonge said. “That isn’t a public-health need.”

The state was testing all suspected cases until the first one was confirmed April 30, then began focusing on cases involving school-age kids. That changed after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended schools stay open even if one or two students are found to have the flu.

“All signs so far have been more reassuring that it looks like seasonal influenza,” Calonge said. “Most of the indicators would suggest that it is tapering off, but that’s uncertain.”

In another sign the epidemic is waning, the state Department of Corrections lifted the ban on visiting hours it had put in place May 4. Instead, prison staff will check visitors for signs of illness before they are allowed inside.

But concern about the flu has not eased for at least one Denver-area father, whose 13-year-old son is among the confirmed cases and whose 15-year-old daughter is suspected to have it.

Miguel Morales complained that his son’s Westminster school should have shut down as soon as it had a confirmed case, instead of just sending letters to parents.

Following recommendations from health authorities, the principal of Shaw Heights Middle School informed parents May 7 about the swine-flu case and told them the ill student had siblings in the district. The CDC had stopped recommending school closure as a precaution after it became clear the H1N1 behaved like a typical flu.

Miguel Morales Jr. came down with a fever and cough two days after his parents got the letter. He said this flu is “a little bit worse” than any cold he has had.

Jennifer Brown: 303-954-1593 or jenbrown@denverpost.com