April 27, 2009
El Paso:  U.S. health officials said Monday that Juárez has reported four suspected cases of swine flu, and as a precaution, schools were closed.  The swine flu has killed more than 145 people and sicked 2,000 others in Mexico.  Dr. Michael Hill, the city’s public health director, said he recently received the information about the cases Juárez. Health authorities there are waiting for confirmation from a government laboratory that the cases involve swine flu.

A Chihuahua state government announcement said, “We’re asking parents not to take their children to school later (Monday), because they will find the schools closed.”
The Autonomous University of Juarez (UACJ) also notified the community that its campus would be closed until May 6.

Also on Monday, Texas state and city of El Paso health officials said flu surveillance is being conducted to monitor for any cases of swine flu. Texas has reported three cases of swine flu, all near San Antonio.  El Paso health officials asked parents not to send their children to school or daycare if they exhibit flu symptoms: high fever, lethargy, headache, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

El Paso schools remain open.  Dr. Michael Hill, the city’s public health director, said anti-viral medications from federal stockpiles will be available if they become necessary.  He said the city Department of Public Health laboratory can test for viruses, but if the local lab cannot identify the virus, then the specimen is sent to the state lab in Austin.
If Texas health officials cannot isolate the virus, then they will forward the specimen to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.  El Paso and San Diego have CDC quarantine stations, but no lab facilities.

“We are dealing with a new virus, which means people have not been able to develop immunity to it,” said Dr. Luis Escobedo, an official with the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza, a pediatrician, said health authorities are still puzzled by why the flu cases in Mexico have been so deadly compared to the cases in the United States, which have been relatively mild.  Customs and Border Protection officers at the El Paso and New Mexico international bridges are on the alert for motorists or pedestrians who may have flu symptoms.  Roger Maier, spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said bridge officials were passing out a Traveler’s Health Alert Notice, which has information about swine flu symptoms.

“If our officers encounter someone who is sick, then they will give the person a medical mask. Our officers also have protective kits for themselves,” Maier said. “If they deem it necessary, they refer them to the CDC office.”