Swine flu declared a pandemic, but cases decreasing locally

King County public health officials plan to continue their same approach to tackling swine flu (H1N1) although the World Health Organization declared a swine flu pandemic Thursday.

“Their announcement of a global pandemic shows that it has spread around the world,” said Matias Valenzuela, public information officer for Seattle-King County Public Health, in a phone interview Thursday. “We’re still closely monitoring the disease and it is still circulating. But (locally) the level of illness is decreasing and we’ve seen a decrease in activity.”

With nearly 30,000 cases of swine flu reported in more than 70 countries, the WHO declared the first global flu epidemic in 41 years. The WHO designation of a Phase 6 alert (the highest level of alert) reflects that there are ongoing outbreaks in multiple parts of the world, according to the organization’s Web site.

Forty-three Washington residents have been hospitalized and two have died from swine flu from April 19 through June 5, according to the state Department of Health Web site.

There have been more than 13,000 cases and at least 27 deaths from swine flu in the U.S. through June 5, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

County health officials plan to focus their efforts on fighting an outbreak of the virus in the fall and winter months.

“We expect to see a decline in the warm, summer months,” Valenzuela said. “But we anticipate H1N1 will be back in the fall. We will work with schools and health-care providers to help individuals and families prepare.”

County officials will consider possible school closures, alternative child-care sites or even encouraging businesses to allow people to work from home if a serious outbreak strikes in the fall, Valenzuela said.

But for the summer, few swine-flu cases are expected in the county.

“The virus moves on in the hemisphere to where it is winter,” Valenzuela said.

Steve Hunter can be contacted at shunter@kentreporter.com.

For more information, go to www.kingcounty.gov/health/swineflu or the Centers for Disease Control site at www.cdc.gov.