Texas On Front Line Of Swine Flu Battle

The Texas town of Cibolo, near San Antonio, was thrust into the news earlier this week as the first place in the state with confirmed cases of swine flu. Three high-school boys contracted the H1N1 virus, though none had visited Mexico. Although the boys have recovered, the school district shut all its schools last week, and people are skittish.

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In Texas, one of the first confirmed cases was in the town of Cibolo near San Antonio, ant that town was thrust into the news earlier this week. Three high school boys contracted the HIN1 virus, though none had visited Mexico. Although the boys have recovered, the school district shut all its schools down last week and people are skittish.

NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT: Jennifer Hartman is the 33-year-old first-term mayor of Cibolo. Blonde and business-like, she drives a minivan and runs a marketing company out of her home. She sits in on five conference calls a day with state and local officials dealing with the flu outbreak. She's been urging citizens to practice social distancing, something she's doing with her own three children.

Mayor JENNIFER HARTMAN (Cibolo, Texas): We kind of confine our playtime to around our home. I mean it's not necessarily just inside. We do play outside. It's taking walks alone, not with friends. I think what the CDC and the state is trying recommend is that people not gather in large groups together.

BURNETT: In terms of social avoidance, people seem to have gotten the message, to the detriment of the businesses along Main Street. Carl Garza is the owner of Catalano's Pizzeria.

Mr. CARL GARZA (Business Owner): You know, business has really shot down. This is like the worst I've ever seen it. I've been out here almost seven years. Two nights ago I had one table walk into my restaurant. That's never happened before, ever. I think people just got really scared.

BURNETT: Locals say that people are nervous. Kids from Steele High School, where swine flu broke out, are not particularly welcome out in public. One father said he tried to take his two sons, who attend Steele High, to the gym at nearby Randolph Air Force Base, and they wouldn't let them in. So what's there to do?

Fourteen-year-old Kristen Murphy is really bored sitting at home with her three siblings.

Ms. KRISTEN MURPHY: I've been inside. Nobody has really been going outside 'cause they get so scared.

BURNETT: So what have you done to pass the time?

Ms. MURPHY: (Unintelligible) there's nothing really to do.

BURNETT: Her father, John Murphy, a former Marine who delivers newspapers for a living, sits nearby in there garage.

Mr. JOHN MURPHY: Everything is fine as long as you're not in close proximity, getting sneezed on, coughed on. You should keep your hands sterilized.

BURNETT: More than a few people said school officials may have over reacted when they shut down all 14 schools in the district over concerns the flu would spread.

Reverend BRETT BECKER (St. Paul Evangelical Church): I am Brett Becker, pastor of St. Paul Evangelical Church in Cibolo, Texas. Right now, from what I'm hearing and the emails I've received, most people are thinking it's a bit overblown at this point. I know there's a tremendous concern over the bird flu, and that did not turn out to be the great killer of millions that it was thought it would be.

BURNETT: Just like bird flu gave poultry a bad rap, swine flu is bedeviling hog farmers like Chuck Real, whose farm is a few miles down the road from Cibolo. He won't let visitors get near his pens, not because he's afraid we'll catch something from these pale, plump animals snoozing on a humid afternoon.

Mr. CHUCK REAL (Hog Farmer): These plastic boots here, we want you to slip them over your shoes. It's for bio-security, to protect our hogs, is what it's for.

BURNETT: According to pork protocol, Chuck Real is the only one who can take a microphone close to his sows and boars.

(Soundbite of hogs)

Mr. REAL: All that noise is from a boar that's about six months old.

BURNETT: Real has raised hogs commercially for 31 years. Lately he's been doing public relations for his industry, saying that no pig has ever contracted this particular HIN1 virus in the United States, which is technically true. A CDC researcher pointed out that other strains of flu have jumped from swine to humans.

Mr. REAL: You worry about the black eye that the industry is going to get. If it had been called the elephant flu, we would never have had a problem.

BURNETT: Everybody in Cibolo can't wait until they can put the swine flu chapter behind them.

John Burnett, NPR News.

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