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Local officials getting ready for potential swine flu outbreak

By Staff | Apr 27, 2009

The United States Govern-ment has declared a “public health emergency of international concern” regarding confirmed cases of swine flu on American soil.
Though cases have been confirmed in California, Texas, and New York City, officials in Washington stressed the declaration is nothing more than an early response to reported outbreaks.
No cases have been reported in Florida or Lee County, but local health officials are preparing just the same. The Lee County Department of Health, Lee Memorial Health System and the Lee County Chapter of the American Red Cross have already begun an information campaign to heighten county awareness.
“We don’t have, as of right now, any confirmed cases of swine flu, but there is no reason Florida will be immune, and no reason the county will be,” said Dr. Judith Hartner from the county health department. “This is the proper time for people to practice general preparedness.”
Hartner added people should diligently practice hygiene, as swine flu is spread in much the same way as seasonal, or traditional, flu bugs, through touching, coughing, or sneezing.
The influenza’s presence in America is cause for concern, but not panic, according to Hartner.
“There is no reason for alarm, but a lot of reason for vigilance,” she said.
Though no vaccine currently exists to battle swine flu, Lee Memorial Health System does have some strategies in place if swine flu became a serious local threat.
Doctors across the Health System and especially in emergency rooms are operating at an increased level of precaution.
“We started preparing for something like this years ago. We have a comprehensive system-wide plan we can invoke,” said Stephen Streed, director of Epidemiology for Lee Memorial Health System. “We’re doing things right now. Our emergency rooms and doctors are aware.”
Streed said Lee Memorial decided it was important to prepare for a major outbreak following the avian flu and SARS epidemics in 2004.
He added that if it were determined an ill patient had contracted swine flu, they would be quarantined.
“We are watching this closely … we were aware of it pretty early on. We talked with the Health Department last week, and continue to work with them”
Dr. Hartner said a time frame of “at least” 24 hours is needed to determine if a person has contracted swine flu.
“If we had someone and a high suspicion they had it, we would begin acting as it were the flu while waiting for confirmation,” Hartner said.
Red Cross officials have advised that residents practice basic public health and preparedness measures including: covering your cough/sneeze, frequent hand-washing, visiting a doctor for flu-like symptoms, and staying home when sick.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have advised against most travel to Mexico, and that non-essential travel to Mexico also be avoided.
For more information on swine flu, visit the Lee County Department of Health at www3.leegov.com/healthdept/, or call 332-9501.