Landstuhl to test Sigonella flu case for H1N1

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 28, 2009

An active-duty member stationed in Sigonella, Sicily, has contracted Type A influenza virus out of season, prompting health officials to run tests to see if it could possibly be swine flu.

U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella sent cultures to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to see if it is a case of H1N1, said Lt. Lynn Skinner, spokeswoman for the hospital. That should take about two weeks.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, sporadic human infections have occurred. H1N1 is a new flu virus of swine origin that was first detected in April.

As of Wednesday, the number of confirmed and probable cases of H1N1 in the United States was 7,927, with 11 deaths, according to a posting on the CDC’s Web site.

The swine flu is being spread from person-to-person, sparking a outbreak of illness in the United States and increasing the number of cases internationally, the CDC stated. The outbreak prompted some states to temporarily close schools and other public buildings. Some cruise ships also were rerouted from planned ports in Mexico, where the outbreak was first detected.

So far, there have been no reported cases of the H1N1 strain within the U.S. military community in Europe, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cooper, an epidemiologist for the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Europe in Germany. But the 609 confirmed cases of Type A and B influenza this past flu season were more than double last year’s figure of 300, he said.

The flu season typically starts in November and it technically ends in April. While unusual, it is not unprecedented that people can come down with the flu out of season, Cooper added.

The Sigonella case was diagnosed Tuesday, catching the interest of medical officials. The patient was "sent home sick and asked to stay home until well," Skinner said. The hospital is following all CDC guidelines for handling influenza.

Naval Air Station Sigonella did not change any of its operations, and there was no need to close the school, she said.

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