2009-04-30 / Front Page

Swine Influenza Confirmed In U.S.

County holds preparedness seminar for rural health emergencies
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz STAFF WRITER

As more confirmed as well as unconfirmed swine influenza cases continue to surface in the United States and in other countries ranging from France to Canada, steps are being taken across the nation and here within the commonwealth to contain the possible spread of the flu outbreak.

County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Coordinator Vince Joyce shared with the "News" as of Sunday evening the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had confirmed several dozen cases of swine flu within the United States' borders. Among those are 28 in New York, seven in California, two in both Texas and Kansas and one in Ohio. The symptoms in these cases remain "relatively mild," and no deaths have been reported.

Kentucky and Georgia, the Department of Homeland Security has further maintained in local correspondence to Joyce, are reporting "clusters of viral infection." Investigations into these unconfirmed cases are ongoing.

On a broader, international level, the largest number of cases (20) of swine influenza confirmed by CDC has emanated from Mexico. In comparison, open source has revealed, the Mexico Ministry of Health has 1,614 suspected cases and 103 related deaths. A formal request for antiviral treatments, personal protective gear and equipment as well as logistical and mobilization support from the Mexican government is likely and expected within days.

In Canada, only six cases have been confirmed with symptoms reported as mild. France is also studying four possible cases of swine flu, and unconfirmed re- ports have now emerged from New Zealand, Brazil, Columbia, Israel and the UK through the World Heath Organization.

Even though the outbreak is not considered a global pandemic at this time, a "public health emergency" has been declared in order to be prepared for any changes as has a traveler's health alert notice.

Joyce said the situation is being monitored closely here, and plans are in place at the Fulton County Medical Center to address any issues. Hospital and EMA officials met this week to further discuss the topic.

Local residents are now being encouraged to refrain from visiting long-term care unit residents and patients at the hospital if they are suffering from a cold or flu-like symptoms.

In Fulton County last Wednesday, almost two dozen area responders, county and hospital officials and other residents received a rather timely lesson on rural emergency preparedness and public health emergencies compliments of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Public Health Preparedness and the local EMA office. Presenters Sherie Wallace and Dave Piposzar pointed out that infectious diseases can often get rolling and may not get documented as quickly in rural areas as in their urban counterparts.

Wallace and Piposzar touched on a variety of natural and technology related disasters, bioterrorism, pandemics and epidemics. Pandemics, according to the duo, are categorized as epidemics but on a larger scale, such as spanning several countries or continents, and affect a large portion of the population. References to past pandemic experiences included the Spanish flu pandemic of the early 1900s and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Piposzar stated the reality for rural communities, such as Fulton County, is that in such instances the cavalry will not be coming. In many cases, he stated, a large percentage of healthcare workers will not report to work due to having being inflicted themselves or are caring for loved ones themselves.

"You will be on your own for a while. Maybe indefinitely," said Piposzar.

"What if up to 25 percent of the medical workforce can't or won't respond?" asked Piposzar. "What if city residents evacuate to rural areas? What do we do to protect ourselves?"

Piposzar reminded those on hand of the benefits of repeated hand washing; masking sick patients; covering one's nose and mouth when sneezing, coughing or blowing one's nose; avoiding sharing food, beverages and utensils; and avoiding close contact with sick people. For those already exhibiting symptoms, Piposzar suggested staying away from school or work or going to the hospital if severe symptoms emerge.

While a one-size-fits-all plan does not apply to every situation, Wallace elaborated on the distribution of mass vaccinations through surveillance, supply and stockpiling, distribution and dispensing and who to contact in the event of a potential outbreak.

Return to top