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Swine flu exposure confirmed

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Neither staff nor residents of the Southwestern Virginia Training Center have shown signs of sickness after potentially being exposed to a case of swine flu.

The Mount Rogers Health District has confirmed that a case of swine flu has been found in its five-county and two-city coverage area, which includes Carroll and Grayson counties and Galax.

The World Health Organization has declared a pandemic in the spread of the H1N1 virus to more than 70 countries and killed 170 people in the United States.

Worldwide, 94,512 cases of swine flu have resulted in 429 deaths, according to the WHO.

The confirmed case in the Mount Rogers District adds to the total of 266 instances of the illness found across the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Virginia remains a state where there is "widespread influenza activity" found. Fairfax had the most cases of the swine flu at 49.

The Virginia Department of Health's Robert Parker would not release which locality in the health district the case was found.

But officials at the training center took a possible exposure seriously enough to isolate a resident and quarantine four of its 24 residences.

"It's possible... we're just being very cautious... five of our residents that attend the sheltered workshop in Hillsville may have been exposed to flu," said Dale Woods, the training center's director.

The five residents were tested for flu, and one test came back positive.

Woods said that medical officials advised the training center to react as if the illness was the swine flu.

Training center officials isolated the one patient that tested positive, and quarantined four of the housing units on the campus, Woods said.

There is the possibility that the testing result was a false positive, he added. Since the test last week, no training center resident or staff member has developed flu symptoms — not even the resident who tested positive.

"We're hopeful that, if there was a threat, we caught it early and were able to manage it," Woods said.

The training center's medical director was to assess the situation again on Monday and see if the staff should continue the precautions, he said.

Woods has been pleased with the response of the staff — housekeepers volunteered to clean over the weekend to make sure the facility was sanitary.

Workers have been careful to keep any illness from spreading and there's been no panic, he said. "They're doing their job, and they're doing a good job."

Lisa Moore, executive director of the Mount Rogers Community Services Board, issued a statement about the situation Monday:

"We have been notified that an individual receiving our services has been confirmed to have the H1N1 flu virus. We are responding in accordance with directives from the Virginia Department of Health in an effort to manage the situation and to minimize risk.

"Individuals who may be at risk of developing symptoms have been notified and were assisted with or encouraged to seek the care of their physician.”

Virginia Department of Health officials have a policy to not give enough specifics to identify a person suffering from an illness, Parker said, explaining why the department only confirms cases by health district.

He knows of no other confirmed case in Mount Rogers since the one last week.

Parker said steps are being taken to assess who may have had an elevated risk of exposure to the confirmed case and whether further steps may be needed.

This is a pandemic, so the possibility of additional cases being found in Virginia is a reality, he said.

But, as the disease closely resembles the flu, people can be proactive in limiting the chances for exposure, Parker said. It's important to wash your hands often and to use a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

If you are sick, stay home, he said.

"We can mount an effective defense with those good common sense health habits," Parker said.