On guard against swine flu

Published 7:51 am Wednesday, April 29, 2009

FRANKLIN—Although there are no confirmed cases of swine flu in Virginia, precautions are being taken to combat any outbreak of the disease, state and local officials say.

Gov. Tim Kaine announced Tuesday that the state is increasing its communication with health-care providers and is waiting to receive additional antiviral medication from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Kaine also said the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Karen Remley, has declared a public-health emergency. The move gives Remley more options for communicating information and for coordinating a response to an outbreak should one arise. The state is also extending and enhancing its program for reporting and tracking confirmed cases of the flu.

Anne Williams, spokeswoman for Southampton Memorial Hospital, said there have been no reported cases of swine flu at the hospital.

“The hospital is working with a heightened awareness about this situation and reinforcing flu precautions with our medical team,” Williams said. “We are also closely monitoring the progression of swine flu cases reported in the U.S and following hospital-specific readiness guidelines from the CDC.”

Williams added: “Good health habits are especially important now to help stop the spread of germs and include covering coughs, frequent hand-washing and avoiding contaminated surfaces. Individuals with flu-like symptoms should minimize close contact with others by staying home from school and work to help avoid spreading any potential illness to other people.”

The swine flu seems to have started in Mexico but has since spread to other countries, including the United States. Remley said a virus not previously seen in humans or animals is causing the current outbreak.

According to the CDC, the symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human seasonal influenza. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, and coughing. Some people with swine flu have also reported runny noses, sore throats, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The CDC said flu viruses could be directly transmitted from pigs to people and from people to pigs. Humans are most likely to catch flu viruses from pigs when they are in close proximity to infected pigs, such as pig barns and livestock exhibits housing pigs at fairs. Human-to-human transmission of swine flu is also possible, and the CDC believes it is spread the same way as seasonal flu – through coughing or sneezing of people infected with the flu virus. People may also become infected with the flu by touching something with flu virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

Persons with swine flu are contagious for up to seven days after the onset of illness and possibly longer if they are still symptomatic. The CDC and the scientific community are still learning more about this new virus.

“Many Virginians have traveled to Mexico this spring,” Remley said. “If you have been back in the U.S. for at least a week and are not already ill, it is very unlikely that you will develop swine flu from that exposure. If you have symptoms of flu and have traveled to this and other areas where swine flu has been identified, stay home and call your local health-care provider or health department.”

All of the recently confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States have occurred in California and Texas.

Kaine said the state has stockpiled about 770,000 doses of antiviral medicine and will receive another 280,000 doses from the CDC within a week.

“We have been planning for a situation like this for many years,” Kaine said. “We have a surveillance system in place that is closely tracking reports of influenza-type illnesses, (and) our state laboratory is prepared to quickly conduct and report tests on suspected cases.”

Since 2006, the state has conducted six exercises to test its emergency preparedness plan for pandemic flu outbreaks.