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Swine Flu: Panic or Pandemic?

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Two confirmed cases of swine flu had been reported in Virginia as of last Friday, and the Mount Rogers Health District is preparing to address an outbreak, should one occur.

Health officials recommended that the public take precautions against the spread of the disease.

The two confirmed cases are an adult male from eastern Virginia and an adult female from central Virginia. They both had traveled to Mexico, had mild illnesses and are recovering well, according to state health officials.

Twin County Regional Hospital confirmed that, as of Friday, there were no local diagnoses of the swine flu.

Last Thursday, North Carolina’s state health director said there were two probable cases of swine flu there, in Onslow and Wake counties. Specimens from those cases have been sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for analysis.

District Health Officer Dr. D. Craig Smith said last week that swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by a type A influenza virus that can cause outbreaks of influenza in pigs. Swine flu viruses only infect humans on rare occasions.

Health officials have determined that there is no risk of contracting swine flu from eating pork.

This strain of swine flu virus, A(H1N1) also contains genetic material from birds and is a new virus not seen before. “This means that pre-existing immunity to the virus is likely to be limited to none at all and that the current seasonal flu vaccine is likely not effective against it,” said Smith.

 The CDC has begun issuing continuous advisories indicating the outbreak of swine influenza is evolving rapidly, with the disease now being confirmed in nearly all parts of the world. As of Friday, the U.S. has reported 109 laboratory-confirmed human cases of swine influenza in 11 states — not including Virginia — with one death.

In Mexico, nearly 2,500 people are believed to be infected, with more than 150 deaths attributable to the virus.

 The outbreak is ongoing and additional cases are expected. “There are literally hundreds of Virginians who have traveled to Mexico or other affected areas in the past several weeks,” Smith said.

Severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infections in Mexico. Smith said it remains a mystery why the disease demonstrates such severity in Mexico, but remains much milder in this and other affected countries.

A bit of good news with the new flu is that certain antiviral medications may treat the disease or keep it at bay.

According to Smith, the Strategic National Stockpile distribution has been activated. Last Wednesday, state health officials said that Virginia had received its first round of antiviral medications from the CDC.

The state received about half the 280,000 courses of medication it expects to get. That will be added to a stockpile of 770,000 courses the state already had.

Virginia also received other flu-related items, such as face masks, gowns and gloves for infection control, should confirmed cases be identified.

Smith said that the confirmed cases in the state would likely trigger further distribution of medications to affected areas. “Plans are in place for rapid local deployment of such medications, largely through mass dispensing at certain strategically located school facilities,” said Smith.

Dr. Karen Remley, the state health commissioner, said Friday that while Virginia has prepared for these situations — the state has conducted six flu pandemic exercises since 2006 — people should take precautions to guard against illness. “This is an evolving situation, so people do need to take it very seriously.”

Officials advised people who feel ill to avoid contact with others and to seek medical attention. To prevent the spread of infection, people should take the common sense steps of covering their mouths when they cough and frequently wash their hands, officials noted.

Twin County Regional Hospital physicians and staff are taking measures to prevent swine Flu by following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines. TCRH employees have been briefed regarding precautionary measures and are proactive in maintaining necessary supplies.

A CDC handout is being distributed at the Emergency Department, Family Care Centers and is also available online at cdc.gov/h1n1flu/swineflu_you.htm.

Additionally, information has been posted throughout the hospital and at the TCRH Family Care Centers to help guide visitors and patients.

As a precaution TCRH is requesting that individuals do not visit patients if they should have any respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, fever, body aches or other illnesses.

Also, patients presenting symptoms of respiratory illness may be asked to wear masks while waiting for treatment or located in treatment areas.

The flu increases the risk of severe complications to patients with other illnesses. Individuals who are receiving cancer treatments or whose immune systems may be compromised, along with infants and young children, should avoid any unnecessary visits to the hospital during this time.

The community is encouraged to be vigilant by washing hands frequently and avoiding close contact with symptomatic individuals.

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Swine Flu Symptoms

Symptoms in humans are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu:

• Fever greater than 100sF

• Sore throat

• Cough

• Stuffy nose

• Chills

• Headache and body aches

• Fatigue

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How to Prevent the Spread of Swine Flu

Tips from the Centers for Disease Control

• Avoid contact with ill persons

• When you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve (if you do not have a tissue). Throw used tissues in a trash can. Carry a small plastic bag in your purse or pocket for used tissues if you are in a place that doesn’t have a trash can readily available.

• After you cough or sneeze, wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand gel. Frequent handwashing is among the most effective methods for avoiding flu.

• If you think you are ill with flu, avoid close contact with others as much as possible. Stay at home. Seek medical care if you are severely ill (such as having trouble breathing). There are antiviral medications for the treatment of swine flu that a doctor can prescribe. Antiviral medications are most effective if started within 24-48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

• Do not go to work, to school, or travel while ill.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something contaminated with germs and then touches the eyes, nose or mouth.