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The state is confirming the first cases of swine flu in Massachusetts. Two young brothers from Lowell have tested positive for the virus. Officials are currently awaiting word on a possible third case.
The boys in question are brothers and, although there is some confusion about their age, they apparently went to Mexico with their family during school vacation. One started feeling sick on Thursday and the other on Saturday. Both went to Massachusetts General Hospital over the weekend, where they were tested and released.
The boys are still at home, being isolated, but recovering well, according to health officials.
Because the boys never went to school after their vacation, city officials were not worried about other students catching the virus at school. But the brothers did see their playmates and family members at home.
Epidemiologists say they have done a good job tracking down those people, about 40 altogether. Those people have all been screened and show no signs of the flu. Doctors have treated some of them prophylactically with anti-viral drugs.
Although there is no sign of transmission, the state's chief epidemiology Dr. Al DeMaria says they will continue to watch for it
"We're worried about transmission," says DeMaria. "So far we have two confirmed cases and no evidence of transmission because we haven't seen any secondary cases. So we haven't seen any transmission. That's the kind of thing we'd be looking out for."
Officials have tested more than 40 people for swine flu, which is an increase from a couple of dozen on Monday.
Swine flu has been ruled out for most of them. That includes the highly-publicized possible cases in Spencer where siblings went to Mexico and returned feeling sick, and janitors were called in to disinfect the school. The boys have since been cleared of the virus.
"Most of the cases that we have tested have been people who have been in Mexico and most of them have had ordinary seasonal flu," explained epidemiologist Al DeMaria. "So seasonal flu is still being transmitted in Mexico. It's still their flu season even though it's not ours."
The state does have one case it is watching as a possible case of swine flu. They're just waiting for the results of further testing which could come back soon.
Officials are telling Lowell residents to stay calm and to stay home if sick. Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday asked for extra sensitivity from employers to workers who need to stay home if they or their children are sick.
Patrick also assured reporters yesterday that Massachusetts is prepared for an outbreak here. For example, the state is stockpiling anti-viral drugs in case of an outbreak.
Cautioning against going overboard, Gov. Patrick said, "It's important that we be vigilant in watching this and preparing for it, but not overreact. And I don't think that we're at a point yet of recommending that schools be closed."
But, later in the day, the state health department did recommend that schools and day cares strongly consider closing temporarily if a student has a confirmed case of swine flu or shows symptoms after being in contact with some one with the virus.
The health department also recommended that schools make contingency plans.
This program aired on April 30, 2009.
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