COLUMBIA — Although only one Boone County case has been confirmed through testing, an epidemiologist said Tuesday that the swine flu is here and is making people sick.
“If someone has influenza-like symptoms right now, it’s most likely this bug,” said epidemiologist Eddie Hedrick, emerging infections coordinator for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “What people don’t understand is that we don’t confirm every case.”
According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 99 percent of people who have tested positive for an influenza virus right now have the H1N1 strain, Hedrick said.
As of Thursday, there were 80 confirmed and probable cases in the state, one of those in Boone County and three in Callaway County, according to the Department of Health and Senior Services.
Meanwhile, four of 40 MU students who traveled to South Korea to take part in an English teaching program in the Jeonnam province have been quarantined. Since their arrival on July 19, the students have been diagnosed with the H1N1 flu virus, MU spokesman Christian Basi said.
“The other individuals who were not showing flu symptoms voluntarily quarantined themselves,” Basi said.
The students are due to return to the U.S. on Aug. 19 or 20 and do not expect the situation to delay their return, Basi said.
Valerie Insinna, one of the students currently in South Korea, said on her blog “Going Mobile” on Monday that her most recent swine flu test was negative. But two other students tested positive for the virus. She went on to say that they are taking Tamiflu.
“Tamiflu won't prevent swine flu, but for those who have it and haven't shown symptoms, it will help fight the virus quicker. Most of us have decided to take Tamiflu, and we all will be tested for swine flu in five days,” she said on the blog. The students were unable to participate in their first “camp” because of the quarantine, according to the blog.
They’re not the first MU students to learn they have the swine flu after leaving the U.S. In May, a student flew home to China to get married but was quarantined upon his arrival with H1N1, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Hedrick said some countries are testing to try and contain the disease, “but it doesn’t work because people there already have it,” Hedrick said.
Still, he acknowledged the inconvenience for travelers who could leave home not knowing they’ve been exposed. “I would be very cautious when going to other countries where they are testing more strictly,” he said.
Health officials are not testing everyone with flu symptoms to determine whether they have H1N1 because “continuing to test plays no major role in this,” Hedrick said. “As of July 24, (the World Health Organization) told countries to shut down testing because it’s a waste of resources and significantly underestimates the amount of virus that is out there.”
Hedrick said that of 43,771 confirmed and probable cases in the U.S., 302 deaths have been reported by state and local health departments. But the first figure substantially underestimates the prevalence of this flu because not everyone is tested.
“For the most part, the only tests that are being done is if there’s a camp or an outbreak somewhere and they want to diagnose exactly what’s wrong,” Hedrick explained.
Hedrick is to speak on the current status of H1N1 at a school safety conference in Columbia on Friday. Department officials are meeting with all groups involved with education throughout the state about the latest recommendations and guidelines.
Hedrick said he is keeping an eye on the flu’s progress in Australia because it is winter there. “They are having a fairly robust (flu) season, meaning that they have this new virus on top of what normally circulates,” he said.