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Swine Flu Update-



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Swine Flu Update—

Health District Prevention Plea:

‘If You Are Sick, Stay Home!’

By John Voket

Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert said Thursday morning that when it comes to preventing any infectious spreading of any communicable illness including the widening outbreak of the so-called “swine” or H1N1 flu, residents need to follow one simple prescription.

“If you are sick, stay home,” Ms Culbert told The Bee as it went to press the morning of April 30. “I just can’t stress that strongly enough.”

The Newtown Health District, which includes Roxbury and Bridgewater, is collaborating with health departments in the Housatonic Valley Planning Region as news about the recent flu outbreak continues to develop. Prior to the recent outbreak, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in the process of retagging the 2009 H1N1 Flu, regional health and emergency preparedness officials have been meeting monthly for several years planning how react in situations like they are facing today.

The last training session coincidentally occurred the day before the first known diagnoses of the latest flu outbreak were reported. As a result of their training, these local agencies have detailed multistage programs in place to respond appropriately, and in concert with state and federal counterparts.

On Wednesday, the first day in session since the flu outbreak was announced, the entire staff at Kevin’s Community Center was briefed on protocol regarding the H1N1 flu. The free local health clinic is also planning another more comprehensive training session with the health district in the coming days.

On Sunday, April 26, the US Department of Homeland Security declared a public health emergency in the United States. Along with the initiation of implementing response plans, the declaration allows funds to be released to support the public health response. The goals during this public health emergency are to reduce the transmission and illness severity and to provide information to assist in addressing the challenges posed by this newly identified influenza virus.

Besides the important advice about staying home to limit any exposure to the airborne flu, Ms Culbert said it is important for residents to monitor the TV and radio stations, newspapers, local cable stations, email, and the web as well as their mailbox to receive the most current, relevant information and directives for their area.

The Newtown Bee is working with the Newtown Health District director to provide providing regular updates at newtownbee.com, and up-to-the-minute information on the 2009 H1N1 “Swine” Flu from the local health district as it breaks by following The Bee on Twitter (Twitter.com/TheNewtownBee).

“Cancellation of events and activities that involve the congregation of people will help reduce the spread of disease,” she said in a briefing email Thursday morning. “Depending on the numbers and location of cases and the severity of disease, residents should expect that such cancellations will occur in the near future.”

The never-before-seen strain of flu turned killer in Mexico and is causing milder illness in a growing number of victims, including a suspected case in neighboring Southbury, where officials there reportedly issued a districtwide alert in the regional school district where children of the suspected victim attend. There are no confirmed cases yet in Connecticut, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed a total of 91 cases of swine flu in the United States.  Please be aware that this number will change daily and the most current data is updated at 11 am daily at www.cdc.gov . 

At press time, there has been a single US death reported in Texas, which was 23-month-old child who reportedly traveled into the country from Mexico.

Ms Culbert reminded Newtown and health district residents in Bridgewater and Roxbury that the influenza is a hybrid case that incorporates some of the symptoms formerly associated with a respiratory disease in pigs caused by type A influenza viruses. But the CDCP Wednesday was announcing its updated and more scientific identifying label for the flu strain during numerous media interviews.

Locally, the health district could become involved administering a vaccine, could “operationalize” a vaccination clinic, or even create a system of health care volunteers who will shuttle and administer vaccines to residents’ homes, Ms Culbert said. Planning for that possibility, the health district is compiling a list of volunteers who may be willing to help, if they do not become infected or engaged in caring for loved ones who may become ill.

“And you don’t have to have medical background to help,” she said. “We need nonmedical volunteers to handle clerical duties, answer phones, or making calls,” she added.

The health director said while the height of allergy season occurring now can create several of the respiratory symptoms associated with the H1N1 outbreak, the key component is a sustained fever.

“If you sustain a fever for 24 hours or more, you should be in immediate contact with your doctor, and any difficulty in breathing should trigger a 911 call for emergency medical response,” she said. “That being said, we do not want to drive masses of people to the emergency rooms unnecessarily or prematurely.”

Ms Culbert also reiterated that even though the virus was originally identified as being “of swine origin,” cases of swine flu cannot be transmitted by food, and you cannot get swine flu by eating pork products.

Associated Press content was used in this report

Swine Flu Q&A

Q: How do I protect myself and my family?

A: For now, take commonsense precautions. Cover your coughs and sneezes, with a tissue that you throw away or by sneezing into your elbow rather than your hand. Wash hands frequently; if soap and water are not available, hand gels can substitute. Stay home if you are sick and keep children home from school if they are.

Q: How easy is it to catch this virus?

A: Scientists do not yet know if it takes fairly close or prolonged contact with someone who is sick, or if it is more easily spread. But in general, flu viruses spread through uncovered coughs and sneezes or — and this is important — by touching your mouth or nose with unwashed hands. Flu viruses can live on surfaces for several hours, like a doorknob just touched by someone who sneezed into his hand.

Q: In Mexico, officials are handing out face masks. Do I need one?

A: The CDC says there is not good evidence that masks really help outside of health care settings. It is safer just to avoid close contact with someone who is sick and avoid crowded gatherings in places where swine flu is known to be spreading. But if you cannot do that, CDC guidelines say it is OK to consider a mask — just don’t let it substitute for good precautions.

Q: Is swine flu treatable?

A: Yes, with the flu drugs Tamiflu or Relenza, but not with two older flu medications.

Q: Is there enough?

A: Yes. The federal government has stockpiled enough of the drugs to treat 50 million people, and many states have additional stocks. As a precaution, the CDC has shipped a quarter of that supply to the states to keep on hand just in case the virus starts spreading more than it has so far.

Q: Should I take Tamiflu as a precaution if I am not sick yet?

A: No. “What are you going to do with it, use it when you get a sniffle?” asks Dr Marc Siegel of New York University Langone Medical Center and author of Bird Flu: Everything you Need To Know About The Next Pandemic. Overusing antiviral drugs can help germs become resistant to them.

Q: How big is my risk?

A: For most people, very low. Outside of Mexico, so far clusters of illnesses seem related to Mexican travel. New York City’s cluster, for instance, consists of students and family members at one school where some students came back ill from spring break in Mexico.

Q: Why are people dying in Mexico and not here?

A: That is a mystery. First, understand that no one really knows just how many people in Mexico are dying of this flu strain, or how many have it. Only a fraction of the suspected deaths have been tested and confirmed as swine flu, and some initially suspected cases were caused by something else.

Q: Should I cancel my planned trip to Mexico?

A: The US did issue a travel advisory Monday discouraging nonessential travel there.

Q: What else is the US, or anyone else, doing to try to stop this virus?

A: The US is beginning limited screening of travelers from Mexico, so that the obviously sick can be sent for treatment. Other governments have issued their own travel warnings and restrictions. Mexico is taking the biggest steps, closings that limit most crowded gatherings. In the US, communities with clusters of illness also may limit contact — New York closed the affected school for a few days, for example — so stay tuned to hear if your area eventually is affected.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: They are similar to regular human flu — a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people also have diarrhea and vomiting.

Q: How do I know if I should see a doctor? Maybe my symptoms are from something else — like pollen?

A: Health authorities say if you live in places where swine flu cases have been confirmed, or you recently traveled to Mexico, and you have flulike symptoms, ask your doctor if you need treatment or to be tested. Allergies will not cause a fever. And run-of-the-mill stomach bugs will not be accompanied by respiratory symptoms, notes Dr Wayne Reynolds of Newport News, Va., spokesman for the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Q: Is there a vaccine to prevent this new infection?

A: No. And CDC’s initial testing suggests that last winter’s flu shot did not offer any cross-protection.

Q: How long would it take to produce a vaccine?

A: A few months. The CDC has created what is called “seed stock” of the new virus that manufacturers would need to start production. But the government has not yet decided if the outbreak is bad enough to order that.

Q: What is swine flu?

A: Pigs spread their own strains of influenza and every so often people catch one, usually after contact with the animals. This new strain is a mix of pig viruses with some human and bird viruses. Unlike more typical swine flu, it is spreading person-to-person. A 1976 outbreak of another unusual swine flu at Fort Dix, N.J., prompted a problematic mass vaccination campaign, but that time the flu fizzled out.

Q: And whatever happened to bird flu? Wasn’t that supposed to be the next pandemic?

A: Specialists have long warned that the issue is a never-before-seen strain that people have little if any natural immunity to, regardless of whether it seems to originate from a bird or a pig. Bird flu has not gone away; scientists are tracking it, too.

For more information on swine flu:

*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov

*Connecticut Department of Public Health, www.ct.gov/dph

*Call InfoLine at 211

For more information on pandemic flu, visit www.pandemicflu.gov.

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