Meanwhile, Gov. Bobby Jindal said on Saturday that the Department of Health and Hospitals has identified additional cases suspected of the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, bringing the total number of suspected swine flu cases in Louisiana to 23.
The DHH lab now has received a total of 673 cases to test for an indication of the H1N1 virus. They have already tested 294 samples and 379 more are pending.
Governor Jindal said, "The new suspected cases tested positive for type A Influenza, which indicates either seasonal or swine flu. DHH has sent all 23 of these suspected cases to the CDC for confirmation. We still have no confirmed cases of the swine flu in Louisiana, at this time, but the CDC has informed states that the samples they are testing are having a high rate of positive results for the H1N1 virus. We continue to take the necessary precautions to protect people from the possible spread of illness wherever we can, especially in areas where we are seeing a cluster of possible swine flu cases."
Of all 23 suspected cases DHH has sent to the CDC for confirmation testing, 17 are from Lafayette Parish, two are from Orleans and there is one each from Ascension, Beauregard, St. Martin and St. Tammany parishes.
Governor Jindal stressed that even though the state is still awaiting final confirmation on the samples sent to the CDC, state health officials have begun aggressively investigating the possible cases throughout the state to identify any clusters of the possible H1N1 virus, so officials can work quickly to contain the spread of the virus wherever possible.
The Governor said that officials have identified a cluster of suspected H1N1 cases in Lafayette Parish, and therefore are closing a fourth school in the parish: Ascension Episcopal on Johnston Street.
Three other schools in the parish were already closed and the state has recommended they remain closed for the CDC recommended time frame of up to 14 days or 24 hours after the last student shows symptoms of the virus.
Cathedral Carmel was recommended for closure by state officials on Wednesday, Our Lady of Fatima and St. Pius School closed on their own. These schools will remain closed, in accordance with the current CDC guidelines.
Jindal said that the state recommended the closure of Ascension Episcopal due to the close comingling of students at that school with the other three schools in the parish and also because there is a non-typable flu case identified at the school.
The Governor also said that DSS is reaching out to day care centers in Lafayette Parish to see if there are any with a connection to students at the four closed schools. He said that state officials are not recommending that child care centers close at this time, but they continue to work closely with the facilities to monitor any connection to the suspect cases at the schools.
On other public events going on in Lafayette Parish, the Governor said that state officials are on the ground in the area and working closely with local officials to make recommendations on an event-by-event basis.
There are suspected cases in Ascension Parish and Orleans Parish that involve a school student, but officials are not recommending that these schools close at this time.
The Governor said that officials did consider the closing of these schools, in accordance with CDC guidance that says to consider school closure connected to a suspected cases, but are not recommending closures currently because the students in these cases were both home for a substantial period of time since becoming ill and there are not other students at the schools currently experiencing flu-like symptoms.
The Governor cautioned that this guidance could change, and that state officials are in close contact with school officials there and have asked them to monitor any student absences or illness.
Jindal said that what the state is experiencing currently does not seem to be a more virulent strain than normal influenza. He cited a 2006 report from the Office of Public Health that reported 1,750 hospitalizations during a normal flu season and more than 500 deaths from health complications arising from the flu.
At any given time throughout the state, there are likely people in the hospital with flu-like illness, but the Governor highlighted that all 23 suspected cases in Louisiana are at home being treated with antivirals. They have not been hospitalized and all seem to be responding to the antiviral treatment.