HUDSON—It’s a technicality, but Columbia County—or, more correctly, Columbia Memorial Hospital—has registered its first confirmed case of the H1N1 swine flu. The patient, a 72-year-old woman, lives in Tannersville, and Columbia Memorial was the nearest hospital to her home. She was recovering Thursday and was expected to be released from the hospital by Friday, May 22.
Dr. Ananthakrishnan Ramani, an infectious disease consultant and the head of microbiology at the hospital, said the woman had most likely contracted the illness in New York City, where she had visited her daughter, who had a new baby in a hospital. The Tannersville woman was ill before she returned to Tannersville. She also had previous health problems that made her more susceptible to the flu.
Dr. Ramani said doctors at Columbia Memorial Hospital recognized right away that she had symptoms typical of the flu, and specimens were sent to the state lab for testing. Some people with the swine flu variant that emerged as a major public health threat in Mexico last month have not had the high fever that is a signature symptom of most influenza cases. But the Tannersville woman had a fever of 103 degrees F, and tests confirmed that she had the new type of swine flu.
The H1N1 variant of type A influenza is different from the seasonal flu, which typically claims as many as 35,000 lives in the U.S. each year. Most of the victims of seasonal flu are elderly, very young or have compromised immune systems. But in Mexico, young, previously healthy people, seemed to be particularly susceptible to the illness.
Also peculiar to this year is that outbreaks of both the seasonal flu and H1N1 cases emerged in later winter and early spring, much later than is normal for a virus typically most virulent when the weather is coldest. Dr. Ramani said he did not recall any time in the last 15 years when the flu season had shifted so far into the spring.
He said he had heard one person express concern that the woman with the H1N1 swine flu might have passed the illness to others in her community, but he doubts that happened. “She didn’t have time to spread it,” he said Thursday, noting that she had entered the hospital shortly after returning from New York City.
As of Thursday the state Department of Health reported 333 known cases of H1N1 swine flu in the state, with cases reported in 17 counties outside of New York City. The case of the woman in Tannersville was attributed to Greene County by state officials. A specimen from another flu patient unconnected to the Tannersville woman’s case was sent to the state for testing. It came back negaitive, meaning it was not H1N1 flu.
More information on the flu and the precautions to take to reduce the likelihood of contracting or transmitting the virus are available at a toll-free telephone hotline at the state Department of Health, (800) 808-1987. Information can also be found at the state health department’s website, www.nyhealth.gov, at the website of the federal Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov, at the World Health Organization site, www.who.int, and at the Columbia county website, www.columbiacountyny.com.