OKay. I grew up in the miniscule town of Merkel, Texas--population 2500 and some change. And look: it made the news---for all the wrong reasons! Please see below.......
SWINE FLU IN THE BIG COUNTRY (www.reporternews.com)
Six "probable" cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Taylor County involving children from Merkel from 4 to 11 years old, officials said Friday evening at a news conference.
All six of the children are "doing well."
As a result of the findings, all schools in the Merkel and Trent districts will be closed through May 11, Merkel ISD Superintendent Bill Hood and Trent ISD Superintendent Greg Priddy said.
Dr. Zane Travis, with the Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District, said the six cases are among 19 samples from local patients that were sent this week to Tarrant County for testing. The results of the rest of the samples have not yet been returned.
Travis said local officials are sending the six samples of probable swine flu cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for further testing, but health officials from Fort Worth and Austin have told him that "you could probably say these are positive cases."
He said there is no way to know when more test results will come back.
The U.S. swine flu case count rose to 155 on Friday, with one death. The CDC has confirmed 28 cases in Texas. If Merkel's cases are confirmed, the town would have one of the highest concentrations of swine flu in the state.
Texas schools serving about 293,000 students have been closed due to swine flu, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Travis stressed that the public has no reason to panic or overreact, and he said he still plans to attend community events over the weekend without fearing infection. Travis said that the Merkel cases are "mild" and that the children are feeling better after taking flu medication.
Five of the children are students at Merkel Elementary, and one attends Merkel Intermediate School. The illness started about April 23, and Hood said some of the students were sent home sick from school.
"I would be surprised if these are the only ones," Hood said, noting some teachers have reported students vomiting in their classes.
Merkel ISD custodial staff have significantly stepped up sanitation efforts in the last week based on media reports, he said, and they will spend the next week cleaning.
"I talked to some of the parents this afternoon, and I bet some of those are feeling well enough to be back in school if the doctor hadn't told them to stay home for a week," Hood said.
The infected children are not related, Travis said, and he does not believe they had any close relationships. He added one of the students recently went to Laredo and visited with someone from Mexico, but there is no reason to think that is the case that started all the others.
Merkel's entire district has about 1,200 students in five schools.
Priddy said he decided to shut down Trent's only school because about 60 students have transferred from Merkel, not because he has seen evidence of swine flu in his school. Trent has about 180 students.
The Abilene Independent School District, with 16,400 students, plans to stay open for now, but administrators will be checking in with the department of health throughout the weekend to find out if any other test results reveal probable swine flu in Abilene schools, said Cathy Ashby, AISD associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. She said she is not sure how many students transfer into AISD schools from Merkel but said, "It's not significant."
Travis has recommended that if one student tests positive for swine flu, the district should close that school and possibly any other school where that student has siblings. If students from more than one school test positive, the district should be shut down.
Larry Gill, a constable in Merkel who runs the city's history museum, said he was surprised by the news. He said the school district had canceled out-of-town trips and sent a group of 76 students to his museum Friday instead of Fort Chadbourne near Blackwell.
"I guess everyone is glad Merkel didn't travel," he said, noting the irony.
He said more field trips were scheduled to his museum, but school has been canceled until May 11.
Gill said that he still plans to attend church and that the only precaution he plans to take is to keep his distance from people who are sneezing and coughing and appear sick.
(The funny thing is is that Constable Larry Gill is a family friend of ours; he assists Mom and Dad in the funeral business most times..... Definitely small town!!!)
P. S.---My blog post from yesterday was correct in my inference: the 23 month old who died in Houston was in fact immuno-compromised. It is unfortunate he succumbed to the illness, but I knew the media wasn't revealing everything for a more sensationalized story........