Swine flu threat in county, state appears to be fading


As New York City announced two more swine flu deaths Tuesday, bringing the state’s death toll to four, health officials in Los Angeles County and California said the worst of the outbreak -- at least locally -- appears to be over.

“Generally, it does seem to be tapering off in California, although all over the world and in the United States, the number of cases seems to be increasing,” said Bonnie Sorensen, chief deputy director of policy and programs for the California Department of Public Health.

It will be at least another month, though, before state health officials can be sure if the downward trend will continue, she said.


In California, there have been 445 confirmed cases of swine flu and 227 probable cases as of last Thursday, the most recent data available. Forty-three of the confirmed cases are in Los Angeles County.

By contrast, New York City has seen 330 of the state’s 462 confirmed cases.

“Compared to what’s going on in Queens, for example, we’ve had a very limited number of cases,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County’s director of public health.

In Queens, dozens of students at St. Francis Preparatory School contracted the virus after a spring break trip to Mexico. Most suffered only minor illnesses, New York health officials said.

“It’s clear that there is a lot more transmission going on in that part of New York City than we have seen in Los Angeles County or on the West Coast in general,” Fielding said. “Is it because people there use mass transit? Is it because the architecture of schools is much different? I don’t think we know the answers. All we have at this point is hypothesis, but there’s no evidence that the virus in New York is different than the virus here.”

Three weeks after the swine flu frenzy reached a peak, the never-before-seen H1N1 virus has yet to turn into the full-fledged health crisis that some feared.

California, with its proximity to Mexico, also did not see particularly high rates of the disease.

Sorensen said much of the concern about the possible virulence of the new strain proved unfounded.

“Now, in retrospect, many of those hospitalized and dead, it turns out did not have novel influenza,” Sorensen said. “Mexico’s appearance was exaggerated over reality.”

Sorensen said the cases have not been more severe in California in part because the virus in general infected younger, healthier people.

Of the state’s cases, 90% have been in people under 50. And almost all of the 40 hospitalizations were of people with underlying health conditions, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and pregnancy.

And although swine flu’s threat hasn’t fully materialized in California, Sorensen said, the cases of routine seasonal influenza, which typically peak in January and February and fade out by the end of March, are persisting later than usual.