State testing quietly for swine flu; no cases yet

The state Department of Health & Human Services is not releasing figures on how many people in New Hampshire have been tested for swine flu.

Dr. Jose Montero, director of the department, said Tuesday that there have been people tested for the virus in the state and that all of the tests have come back negative.

When asked specifically how many have been tested, Montero said the department isn’t releasing the number.

Montero said those who are being tested for swine flu are being screened for other viruses, as well, so the number is irrelevant.

“We want to have a better level of understanding of what other viruses are out there,” he said.

Montero said those who are showing flu-like symptoms and being tested are being advised to stay home until they are informed of the results. The process takes less than a day in most cases, he said.

As of Tuesday, there were 64 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States but none in New England.

The closest incidents of the virus are 45 confirmed cases in New York, including at least 28 in one New York City school. The strain of flu has caused 152 deaths, all in Mexico.

Montero said the state continues to monitor the situation on a national level, while also communicating with hospitals, schools and emergency officials across the state.

“We did have conference calls with hospitals yesterday,” Montero said, during which the department advised on issues such as whom to test for swine flu and how.

When asked at what point the state would consider stepping down its monitoring of the virus, Montero said that depends on several factors, including whether it continues to spread across the country.

“It depends on how the situation evolves,” he said. “The decision to step down or when to increase our response goes through senior executive levels, the commissioner and the governor.”

The state has created a public inquiry line for the swine flu. By calling 1-888-330-6764, people can get information about possible symptoms, travel information and other issues related to the illness.

The phone line is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Montero cautioned that the line is not intended as a place where people who may have symptoms can receive medical advice or attempt to report cases. People exhibiting symptoms should seek medical attention, he said.

In the first two hours that the line was open, Montero said they received roughly 30 phone calls. “Judging by the number of calls, I don’t think there is a big outcry yet,” he said.

The symptoms of swine flu are similar to seasonal influenza, including fever, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, chills, headache, muscle aches and fatigue, according to the department.

To prevent the spread of the swine flu or any other illness, the department is encouraging people to wash their hands frequently, covering their mouth with their sleeve when coughing or sneezing and staying home from work or school when sick.