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UTMB Gets Swine Flu Samples

By Laura Elder — The Galvesto County Daily News, May 6, 2009

GALVESTON Swab samples from the mouths and noses of Mexican patients suspected of being infected with the swine flu virus arrived Tuesday at Scholes International Airport before being delivered into the hands of University of Texas Medical Branch researchers.

Dr. Thomas G. Ksiazek, director of the National Biodefense Training Center at the medical branch, was at the airport about 2 p.m. when the plane arrived from Nuevo León.

Ksiazek declined to say how many samples were on the plane. Whether the swabs contain swine flu, also called the H1N1 virus, or the seasonal flu was unclear, officials said.

Researchers at the medical branch's new Galveston National Laboratory will study the samples in hopes of learning enough about the virus' molecular makeup to develop vaccines and therapeutic drugs to treat H1N1.

Medical branch researchers are joining their peers around the world in studying the virus that closed schools around the nation and Tuesday was suspected of killing a woman in Cameron County, the first confirmed death of a U.S. resident from swine flu.

Authorities said the woman's death was a combination of the flu and chronic health problems and not a reason to panic, according to reports.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday the swine flu virus had turned out to be milder than initially feared and issued a change in advice: No need to close schools, but do keep sick children with flu-like symptoms at home for at least seven days, according to reports.

There have been no reported cases of swine flu in Galveston County.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed one case of H1N1 from Lake Jackson in neighboring Brazoria County, however, according to The Facts, the daily newspaper there.

Ksiazek and colleagues traveled Saturday to Mexico, considered the epicenter of the outbreak, meeting with key officials to secure samples.

Researchers at the national laboratory, one of two approved in 2003 by the National Institutes of Health after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, develop drugs and vaccines to battle infectious disease, including deadly germs terrorists might use.

"This is what we were designed and built for," said Joan Nichols, associate director of research at the newly opened laboratory.

Being able to study H1N1 samples is important from a research perspective, Nichols said.

Medical branch researchers will know more about what the samples contain in about five days, Nichols said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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