Alameda County Marks Its First Two Swine Flu-Related Deaths

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Two Alameda County residents who tested positive for H1N1 swine flu died last week, county officials said.

The swine flu-related deaths are the first two in the county and come as the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the disease to be a global pandemic Thursday.

The two deceased, who have not been identified, were both middle-aged men staying in separate hospitals for health reasons unrelated to swine flu, said Sherri Willis, Alameda County Public Health Department spokesperson.

In both cases, which are unrelated, the individuals tested positive for the disease after they died, she said.

The first individual died June 8 and the second individual died June 10, according to Willis.

The men may have had other conditions, including respiratory conditions, that would have increased their risk of dying from the disease, she said.

"When you have flu as an overlay (to other medical conditions) it ends up tipping the balance," Willis said.

There have been 50 confirmed cases of swine flu and 10 probable cases in the county, she said.

"(There is) no real explanation why (the deaths) came close together," Willis said.

The fact that the deaths occurred in quick succession does not indicate that the disease has become more deadly, according to Tomas Aragon, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases & Emergency Readiness at UC Berkeley.

While the World Health Organization's Web site said the disease is now a widespread human infection, the overall severity of the disease is moderate.

"We are in a pandemic, there is a wave moving around the world," Aragon said. "It seems to be mild. ... We are very fortunate."

Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley closed for two days in May after a parent of children at the school, who showed flu-like symptoms, was diagnosed with the disease.

Despite initial plans to close the school for a week, health officials reopened the school because the disease was less severe than expected.

Although the disease has been moderate, Aragon said health officials are taking precautions for the upcoming fall flu season.

"(Flu strands) tend to be mild at first, then come back in a second wave," said Jennifer Lachance, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and a faculty expert on swine flu.

To combat the disease, Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis-which has a facility in Emeryville- announced Friday that it has produced the world's first swine flu vaccine.

The vaccine is produced using a rapid cell-based method that can manufacture millions of doses per week, according to the company's Web site.

"Cell culture-based production allows for quicker and more flexible ramp-up in production," said company spokesperson Eric Althoff in an e-mail.

The United States and 29 other governments have submitted orders for the vaccine, Althoff said.

Novartis expects to have its vaccine out by fall, according to the company's Web site.

But vaccines are not the only way to fight the spread, Lachance said.

Governments should take steps to distribute antiviral medications and educate people on how to wash their hands and practice proper coughing techniques, she said.


Contact Javier Panzar at [email protected]

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