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Preparing for the Swine Flu

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Mills County Public Health Shares Information

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

Mills County has no confirmed cases of the H1N1 “swine flu” virus but that isn’t stopping Mills County Public Health from being prepared.

In a briefing last Tuesday by Mills County Public Health with several city, county and state agencies, Sheri Bowen, administrator of MCPH, stressed preparedness and prevention in her run down of the influenza virus that has killed three and sickened more than 2,600 in the United States.

Nearly 1,000 Iowans have been tested for the virus and 54 have been confirmed as H1N1 flu cases by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory (UHL) since late April.

“What we’re trying to do is to make sure our plans are ready in case we have an incident occur in Mills County,” said Bowen. “But until that would occur, our response is preventative based. We’re preaching long and hard: cover your cough, stay home if you’re ill, wash your hands.”

Representatives from the Mills County Supervisors, Mills County Sheriff’s Office, Mills County Emergency Management, the Glenwood Police Department, the Glenwood Public Schools, the Glenwood Resource Center and several local medical clinics attended Tuesday’s briefing.

The current outbreak of the H1N1 virus is not the first potentially deadly flu virus to strike in recent years. The seasonal flu kills more than 30,000 people annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Previous influenza viruses have caused illness ranging from mild to very severe. Early indications are that the current unique influenza strain is causing mild to moderate illness in Iowa.

The H1N1 swine flu virus is spread from human to human and not from swine to human. According to the World Health Organization, the World Organization of Animal Health, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, swine flu cannot be spread by eating pork and the virus is not a food safety issue.

But, much like the seasonal flu, which is often spread by coughing or sneezing, Bowen is encouraging local agencies, businesses and schools to put up signs or posters about ways to minimize exposure.

Prevention, Bowen said, is key to limiting the spread of any virus.

“If you’re ill, stay home,” Bowen said.

So far, just one Mills County resident has been tested for the virus, but Bowen said that case doesn’t appear to be a probable case. While Bowen said the virus is not as bad as the CDC originally predicted in late April, risks for contracting the virus remain.

Bowen said the CDC has tested more than 900 Iowans for the H1N1 flu since late April. To be tested, potential carriers must exhibit a cough, sore throat, high fever and have a recent history of being in an area where outbreak has occurred. Other symptoms of the virus have included body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting and some respiratory problems. Bowen said most of Iowa’s probable cases have clustered in the Des Moines area in the counties of Polk, Story, Marshall and Johnson counties.

There is no vaccine for the virus at the present time.

“The only treatment, if we have a confirmed case, is they will give you an anti-viral and isolate you,” she said. “There is no medication or vaccine so don’t expect one.”

If an outbreak of the virus were to occur, Mills County’s “pandemic plan” calls for “community containment actions” that could mean closing schools and limiting public gatherings or activities. However, Bowen said, while several schools have been closed as a result of confirmed cases, the CDC is no longer advising school closures at this time unless the school has “absenteeism that interferes with the school’s ability to function.”

A state hotline has been established for Iowans with questions about swine flu at 1-800-447-1985. Since the line was opened on Tuesday, April 28, nearly 1,000 calls have been received.