Officials monitor flu cases
Swine flu treatments to arrive in few days
Local health officials are encouraging people to be alert after concerns about a deadly swine flu outbreak prompted the United States to declare a national health emergency.
“We are monitoring the situation very closely,” said Donna Martin, director of the Leavenworth County Health Department. “We are contacting hospitals on a regular basis to see what is going on with them and we are in constant contact with the state as well.”
Government health officials have confirmed 40 cases of swine flu across the country, including two in Kansas and others in California, New York City, Ohio and Texas.
A married Dickinson County couple were diagnosed with mild cases of swine flu, after the man had traveled to Mexico, the outbreak’s epicenter, on April 16. Dickinson County is about 115 miles west of Lawrence.
In Mexico, swine flu is close to becoming a pandemic. Officials there say the flu strain may have sickened 1,614 people since April 13, and may be responsible for as many as 149 deaths.
While the cases in the U.S. have been mild so far — only one requiring the patient to be hospitalized — Martin said this type of flu that has infected people is so new that there is no specific treatment for it.
“We don’t have a vaccine,” Martin said. “Until we have a vaccine we will simply monitor the situation and try to make sure we keep people at home who are sick or if you’ve been exposed to someone who is sick.”
On Monday, Martin was on conference calls with officials from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and other health department officials from the state to discuss the situation.
She said many county officials in counties with large Hispanic populations had questions about pandemic flu procedures.
“We’ve all had pandemic flu plans for a while, but the details need to be tweaked for this situation,” Martin said. “It’s just a matter of understanding what is happening and where (the infection) is coming from.”
Martin said they’re also reviewing their pandemic procedures. The county recently had a trial run of a drive-through flu clinic, which was a way for health officials to quickly deliver a large amount of vaccines to people while minimizing exposure.
Lawrence Memorial Hospital officials will meet Tuesday morning to revisit their pandemic plan, said Tricia Thomann, infection control practitioner. They’ll discuss the types of personal protection equipment hospital employees would use and how patients would be quarantined.
While Thomann said the hospital doesn’t anticipate a pandemic, she said things can change and they must be prepared for the worst.
“We do take it very seriously,” Thomann said.
Stephanie Hebert, nurse at Tonganoxie Elementary School, said she hasn’t received any notifications from KDHE or the school board about the swine flu, but said she is paying close attention to what illnesses the kids are coming in with, which right now is mostly allergies or other common illnesses.
“Because it’s not flu season it will be easier to identify which one of our little ones needs to go to the doctor,” she said. “Thankfully we only have a few days of school left.”
Health officials are asking people with symptoms of swine flu to contact their health department and stay home.
Kansas University officials said they have a flu response plan in place, if needed, and they sent an e-mail to students, encouraging them to take precautions to avoid spreading disease, like frequent hand washing.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment leaders said students who traveled to Mexico during spring break in mid-March would most likely be safe from the disease, which was first reported in late March.
University officials said they’re also monitoring developments related to the swine flu outbreak and will update those students scheduled to study abroad in Mexico as the situation develops.
A shipment of swine flu treatments should be arriving in the state in the next few days, Kansas emergency management officials said. Federal officials have authorized the release of flu-fighting drugs from the nation’s strategic stockpile because of the confirmed swine flu cases.
Martin said prevention is one of the best ways to keep any disease from spreading. This means covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, washing your hands regularly and most importantly staying home when you are sick to avoid the risk of spreading the infection to others.
The World Health Organization has a six-phase pandemic flu timeline, which starts from phase one — no viruses among animals has circulated to humans — to phase six, which is widespread human infection. WHO currently is in phase 5. At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities.
Martin said the county follows many pandemic flu guidelines set by WHO.
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