Wednesday, April 29th, 2009
Preparing for swine flu locally
By Shelley Grieshop
Local health officials are requiring all tests on suspected flu patients be performed only at the hospital in Coldwater to enhance the tracking of possible swine flu cases.
As of this morning, Mercer and Auglaize counties have not confirmed any cases of swine flu. There are 64 cases in the U.S., one each in Ohio and Indiana and one death in Texas.
Joyce Jansen, the county health department's director of nursing and contagious disease coordinator, said having all rapid flu tests done at the hospital will help centralize information.
"We want uniformity," she explained, adding some doctors routinely do the tests in their offices.
If the hospital confirms a swine flu case, they are instructed to contact the local health department. Jansen then will inform the state health department and the information will be passed on to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Health department Administrator Dale Palmer said his staff reviewed 25 "suspicious" cases this week but all were negative for the new swine flu strain. One of the cases involved a patient who had recently visited Mexico.
Ohio has one confirmed case, a 9-year-old boy from Elyria, who officials say is recovering. As of this morning, the CDC listed five states with laboratory confirmed cases of the illness. However, numerous suspected cases are being analyzed and the numbers are expected to grow.
A 23-month-old toddler from Texas became the first U.S. victim, the CDC announced today. To date, 159 people have died from the recent swine flu outbreak in Mexico.
Health officials say the growing epidemic is scary because the virus, which appears to have origins in Mexico, is new - a mix of swine, avian and human strains. The current virus is being spread from person to person and not through swine.
Palmer said there is "no mass prophylactic antibiotic" to prevent healthcare workers or first responders from contracting the illness. A preventative vaccine could take six to eight months for officials to create, he said.
However, there are anti-viral medications the public can access if they have symptoms or fear they've been exposed, he said.
The recommendations for prevention are basic and the same as those issued for seasonal flu. Washing hands is extremely important and all sanitation practices should be stepped up, Palmer said.
"We are sanitizing our office at the end of each day," he added.
Palmer said his staff has daily contact via phone with the state health department, the emergency management agency and local hospitals.
"Surveillance is key right now," Palmer said, explaining that diligent communication will keep health officials on guard and prepared for the worse.
Area schools also are being kept in the loop and letters were drafted for parents.
"If conditions change locally, we will keep the public informed," Palmer said.
Q&A for swine flu:
• What is swine flu? It is a respiratory disease that causes regular outbreaks in pigs, and in rare cases can be passed to humans. The recent outbreak is a mutated strain that is being passed from human to human - not from swine.
• Are there human infections in the U.S.? There are currently cases in California, Texas, Kansas, New York City and one case in Ohio.
• What are the symptoms in people? They are similar to the seasonal human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have diarrhea and vomiting.
• How does it spread? It spreads similar to regular flu, from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
• How can someone with the flu infect someone else? Infected people can infect others beginning one day before their own symptoms develop and up to seven or more days after becoming sick. Children may be contagious for longer periods.
• What prevention measures can be taken? Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand cleaners and try to stay in good general health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious foods. Try not to touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing and sneezing and immediately throw the tissue in the trash; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; and if you become ill, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others.
• Are there medicines to treat swine flu? Yes. Doctors recommend Tamuflu or Relenza for the treatment and/or prevention of infection. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body, and work best if started soon after getting sick. There currently is no vaccine available to protect against swine flu.
For further information or questions, the public can contact the Ohio Department of Health's toll-free swine flu hotline at 866-800-1404 or go to www.cdc.gov.