State public health officers said Wednesday swine flu cases are likely to surface soon in Oregon, and Jackson County health officials said local school closures could be recommended if children are diagnosed with the virus.

State public health officers said Wednesday swine flu cases are likely to surface soon in Oregon, and Jackson County health officials said local school closures could be recommended if children are diagnosed with the virus.

"We're expecting there's going to be a confirmed case," Dr. Gary Oxman told reporters during a telephone press conference in Portland. Oxman is the regional public health officer for Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.

"What leads me to say that is this is an epidemic that's reaching toward a pandemic and reaching toward Oregon," Oxman said.

Published reports indicate two cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Marin County, California, and two more likely cases have been identified. Three cases have been identified in Sacramento County.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County's medical officer, said recommendations about when to close schools would likely come down from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to state health officials and from there to county health officers, who would consult with school districts. He said school and county officials have done training exercises on illness-related school closures, so they already have established good communications.

"We're going to do what's right for our community based on what we're seeing here," Shames said.

Shames started his day at 7 a.m. with a presentation to 60-some physicians and other health-care providers about the swine flu virus, including methods for testing and procedures for protecting others from exposure. Later he spoke at the Jackson County commissioners' regular meeting, bringing them up-to-date on the virus and local preparations to protect public health.

Shames said response to a pandemic usually is based on the severity of the outbreak, but researchers still can't determine the severity of this virus, which incorporates some genetic material from pig influenza, along with some from bird influenza and human influenza.

"What continues to be puzzling is that we have an outbreak that appears to be different in different locations," he said, noting that nearly all fatalities related to the virus have occurred in Mexico.

"Panicking and taking actions that are uncalled for is a waste of time and energy," he said. "We're gathering all the information we can. We live in this community, too. We're trying to make recommendations that are good for all of us."

He said it would be "a good idea" to put off all non-essential travel to Mexico.

He again encouraged people to make contingency plans for how they would respond if the virus becomes widespread. He said parents should consider what they would have to do if their child's school closed, and businesses should consider how they would function if, say, 30 percent of their staff was ill.

"It's easier to make those decisions if you have some planning in place, rather than in haste," he said.

Shames said although the virus has been associated with Mexico, it could have come from anywhere. The influenza of 1918, commonly known as the "Spanish flu," actually started in Kansas months before it traveled to Europe.

"That it began in Mexico is purely random chance," he said. "This has nothing to do with borders or where people came from. This disease is equally contagious from one person to another."

Oxman said samples collected from 14 Oregonians are going to be tested to see if they have been ill with swine flu. Results of the test will not be available for several days. The test is the last in a series of four that first determine whether a patient has influenza. The second determines whether the influenza is type A. Additional lab work identifies whether the virus is a swine flu, and the final test confirms whether the person's illness is caused by the current strain of swine flu.

Samples used to be shipped to CDC labs for the final test, but a new test specific for this variant of swine flu is being delivered to state health departments, Dr. Mel Kohn, Oregon's director of public health, explained during the telephone press conference.

"We expect to have that (test equipment) in a few days in Oregon," Kohn said.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.