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L.A. County declares health emergency as a precaution

April 28, 2009 |  3:09 pm

Los Angeles County supervisors today declared a local health emergency, a step they described as routine as they prepare for a possible outbreak of swine flu. So far there are no confirmed cases of the H1N1 strain in the county.

“We don’t want to overstate and lead people to be alarmed,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's health officer. “Thus far we are heartened that the severity is not more than what we see with seasonal flu.”

Fielding said the county is looking into four cases of sick individuals — ages 11, 52, 60 and 69 — who recently traveled to Mexico. None have been hospitalized, he said.

Two of the patients have been confirmed to have a strain of influenza type A, but further testing is needed to determine whether the strain is typical seasonal flu or the swine variety. Fielding said it was probable they will be confirmed as swine flu because human type A strains are rare at this point in the flu season.

The two others have flu-like symptoms that need further study, he said.

Officials did not release the name of the school the 11-year old attends.

"I’ll be surprised if we don’t have cases in L.A. — we’re very big, and we have a lot of travel back and forth to Mexico," Fielding said. "We’re 10 million people, and we have a lot of travel back and forth to Mexico so it would be surprising if we didn’t have any cases."

L.A. County health officials said they are continuing to look into the outbreak of flu-like illnesses at an elementary school and a preschool in Santa Clarita. Officials have not identified those schools.

The emergency declaration clears the way for the county, which has 45,000 courses of anti-virals already on hand, to acquire additional antivirals from the federal stockpile. Fielding told the supervisors that another 675,000 anti-viral courses are scheduled to arrive Wednesday and that the county has access to an additional 2.5 million if needed.

—Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Rong-Gong Lin II