Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

TOP STORY >> State readies for swine flu

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Thousands of students in area school districts will go home this week with a copy of a press release from the Arkansas Department of Health urging the public and physicians to be on the lookout for the swine flu that has killed people in Mexico.

The release went out Sun-day. At that time, 20 Americans in five states had been infected. By Tuesday morning, Ed Barham, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Health, was reporting that the number had doubled to 40, but so far only one has been hospitalized.

Rick Duff, an administrator with Beebe Schools, said he got the release that will be distributed from Becky Land, community health nurse specialist with the Wilbur Mills Cooperative in Beebe.

Robert Martin, who is over student services for Cabot School District, said Tuesday that Cabot has policies in place for flu season and will be following those.

“We’re doing what we normally do when flu season is approaching,” Martin said.

“We have put out all of the precautions as far as hand washing and reporting sick children,” said Julie Miller, a Lonoke Elementary School nurse. “We sent the symptoms to all teachers, doing the normal stuff, and taking precautions,” she said.

Miller said the information came from the state Health Department through the local health cooperative.

Milt Garris, head of the Lonoke County Health Department, said the state Health Department was working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tracking cases and moving Tamiflu around as a preventative for people who are susceptible.

He said the Lonoke Health Department would be involved next fall with the schools, providing mass vaccinations for the regular winter flu.

Rob McGill, interim Superinten-dent of the Pulaski County Special School District, said school nurses were being vigilant, watching for students who present symptoms of the swine flu, but he said attendance was normal—parents weren’t keeping their children home.

“There are no cases in Arkansas yet,” Barham told The Leader, “but we are watching it very closely because we feel like it is only a matter of time.”

Although the virus is being called swine flu, Barham said it actually is made up of four components: two types of swine flu, a bird flu and a human flu.

Barham said it will likely take about six months to develop a vaccine for the new flu that could be included in the flu shots that become available in the fall.

In the meantime, the state has 286,000 doses of Tamiflu stockpiled that could reduce symptoms and shorten their duration, and 105,000 more doses should be available by the end of the week Barham said.

Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food and a person cannot get swine influenza from eating pork products. 

The infection appears to spread from person to person.  Drugs called antivirals (like Tamiflu) can reduce the severity of illness, if taken within 48 hours after symptoms begin.  Antivirals are not to be confused with flu vaccinations.

Influenza vaccinations prevent a person from contracting the disease. Antivirals help treat people that become sick.

The main way that influenza viruses are thought to spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes.

This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby.

Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else’s mouth or nose) before washing their hands.

The CDC in Atlanta has confirmed cases of swine flu in California, Texas, New York City, Ohio and Kansas.

Cong. Vic Snyder said Tuesday, “In the midst of this new infectious disease outbreak, it can be difficult to stay focused on long-term goals; but we must.  Well-funded medical research, access to primary care for everyone including those in rural and under-served areas, health care reform that ensures all Americans have access to affordable health care, affordable pharmaceuticals, good health education, and well-functioning infectious disease reporting systems are all vital to public health.  

“We must also recognize that these diseases infect the world, and we must continue to be advocates and supporters of under-served world communities; because if we don’t, we will all be more vulnerable,”  Snyder said.

Dr. William Mason of the state Health Department said, “We have activated our Emergency Operations Center and are working with state and federal officials to monitor the situation,” Mason said. “We are telling doctors that if they see patients with febrile influenza-like illness, they should collect a specimen for testing.

“We want Arkansans to know that at this time, we don’t have confirmed swine flu in our state. However, we are concerned about what is happening in our neighboring state of Texas and elsewhere across the country.

“The illness that we are seeing in the United States currently is not severe. All ill persons have recovered. There is the possibility that we will see severe illness in the future, and we want Arkansans to be prepared,” Mason said.

Mason provided these recommendations for the public:

– As always, people with respiratory illness should stay home from work or school to avoid spreading infections, including influenza, to others in the community.

– Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or otherwise appear ill.

– Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

– Wash hands frequently to lessen the spread of respiratory illness.

The symptoms of swine flu in humans are similar to the symptoms of seasonal influenza and include: fever greater than 100 degrees, coughing, sore throat, chills, headache and body aches, fatigue, respiratory congestion, and in some cases, diarrhea and vomiting.

People experiencing these symptoms should stay home.

Anyone having any of the following warning signs should seek emergency medical care.

In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

– Trouble breathing.

– Bluish skin color.

– Not drinking enough fluids.

– Not waking up or not interacting.

– Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held.

– Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.

– Fever with a rash.

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

– Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

– Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.

– Sudden dizziness.

– Confusion.

– Severe or persistent vomiting.

People with swine flu who are cared for at home should:

– Check with their health care provider about any special care they might need if they are pregnant or have a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or emphysema.

– Check with their health care provider about whether they should take antiviral medications.

– Stay home for seven days  after the start of illness and fever is gone.

– Get plenty of rest.

– drink clear fluids (such as water, broth, sports drinks, electrolyte beverages for infants) to keep from being dehydrated.

– Cover coughs and sneezes. Clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often and especially after using tissues and after coughing or sneezing into hands.

– Avoid close contact with others – do not go to work or school while ill.

– Be watchful for emergency warning signs that might indicate you need to seek medical attention.

For more information, go to www.healthyarkansas.com or www.cdc.gov.