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Best flu defense: common sense

May 06, 2009
Just days ago, an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico triggered an alarm throughout the globe, including the United States, and sent health officials scurrying for answers, hoping to stop the spread of the virus.

Last week, a school in Texas was one of the first to call off classes in the United States, and several schools around the country have followed suit. At least two schools have been closed in Indiana, and the latest update shows Indiana with three confirmed cases of the flu. Authorities have indicated that Spring Mill Elementary School and Public School 60, both in Indianapolis, will reopen May 11.

On Sunday, federal officials said the number of confirmed cases of swine flu has increased from 160 in 21 states on Saturday to 226 cases in 30 states.

Officials contribute the increase mainly to the government's efforts to work on the backlog of lab tests rather than an increase in actual infections.

Locally, authorities say they are ready in case an outbreak occurs here, but the main focus is prevention.

"We want to get the word out to people to do what they already do with any outbreak of flu," Kent Barrow, Crawford County Emergency Management Agency director, said. "This is a fairly mild strain of flu, and people should just practice the basics: cover your nose and mouth when you cough, wash your hands often with soap and water and stay home if you're not feeling well.

"The Centers for Disease Control recommends social distancing — stay away from large crowds — but, for the most part, continue with your daily life. Officials here have met and discussed plans to deal with the outbreak if we have confirmed cases."

The Crawford County Health Department has been involved in those meetings and believes it is as prepared as it can be.

"We've been in meetings with police departments, schools and other officials," Kelly Sturgeon, Crawford County Health Department nurse, said. "We're now waiting on new CDC guidelines. We now have extra doses of the antiviral medicine stored at an undisclosed location in the county. That will be used in case there is a shortage of medicine or if the local pharmacies use all they have in stock. The medication for the disease is only available with a prescription, so anyone with flu-like symptoms must see a doctor to have it confirmed. A nasal or oral swab will be sent to a lab and confirmed before the medication, which is in the form of a pill, will be prescribed. The medication will not be available at the county health department.

State Health Commis-sioner Judy Monroe, M.D., said in a press release that the symptoms of the swine flu, now called North American Human Influenza A (H1N1), are similar to the symptoms of regular seasonal influenza and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people have also reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Monroe recommends individuals with mild symptoms of influenza to stay home and call their health provider for advice. If symptoms become severe, such as high fever, trouble breathing or an inability to keep down fluids, they should seek medical care.

Parents are also reminded they should not give aspirin to children with flu symptoms to alleviate fever, as it can put them at risk for Reye syndrome, a potentially fatal disease that causes numerous detrimental effects to many organs, especially the brain and liver.

"This is a novel human virus, which means we do not have a vaccine to prevent it," Monroe said. "Individuals aged 65 and over or those with chronic diseases and immune deficiencies are at higher risk for severe complications from influenza, including pneumonia. If these individuals have not received the pneumococcal vaccine, they should discuss with their physician getting the vaccine."

Swine flu is caused by influenza viruses that normally infect pigs. The virus causing the current flu outbreak is not a swine flu virus, but a combination of human, swine and bird viruses. The current outbreak, H1N1, has adapted itself to be easily transmitted from person to person. Swine in the United States have not been and are not infected with this virus. The virus cannot be transmitted by eating pork or pork products. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees kills the swine flu virus as it does other bacteria and viruses.

Public officials are still unsure if a seasonal flu shot will protect individuals from catching the virus, but the shot may decrease the severity of illness.

Anyone seeking information on H1N1 can call, toll free, 1-877-826-0011 between 8 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. daily.

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