Cape County health center says no cases of swine flu confirmed

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Despite rumors that the H1N1 virus has infected Cape Girardeau schoolchildren, the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center has reported no confirmed cases of the virus.

However, the center is not relying on direct tests for that strain of swine flu.

Public health nurse Vanessa Landers said if a patient tests positive for Type A influenza, her office is assuming it's the H1N1 virus.

Three cases of Type A have been confirmed in the past three weeks, she said.

"Most physicians are not testing for the H1N1 virus because the tests are expensive and can range between $200 and $400," Landers said. "So if it's determined that they have Type A, those infected are receiving the same antiviral treatment that those who have H1N1 would get."

Influenza viruses are divided into three groups, called A, B and C; seasonal flu outbreaks are caused by Type A, which includes swine flu, and Type B viruses.

Since it first emerged in April, the global swine flu epidemic has sickened more than 1 million Americans and killed about 500. It's also spread around the world, infecting tens of thousands and killing nearly 2,000.

In the United States this summer, the virus has refused to fade away as flu viruses usually do in warm weather. With schools in session, Health officials predict a surge of cases this fall. Some cases of swine flu were reported last month in the Doniphan and Poplar Bluff school districts.

A recent White House report suggests that 30 percent to half of the U.S. population could catch swine flu during this pandemic and that 30,000 to 90,000 could die.

Landers said the best defense against catching the flu is hand washing, coughing into one's elbow, avoiding areas with large crowds like malls and sporting events and receiving a flu shot.

Area schools have taken measures to deal with an outbreak. Landers said the final course of action is closing down schools.

"They'd only do that if there aren't enough students to hold class," Landers said.

Gerald Landewee, superintendent of the Oak Ridge School District, said the school nurse has promoted hand washing among students this school term. Landewee said he is unaware of any confirmed cases of any flu among students in his district.

The school district plans to be a site for a flu shot clinic, possibly in the fall, for students and the public. No date has been yet scheduled.

"Our school nurse has been heavily involved with a lot of precautionary measures dealing with proper and frequent hand washing," Landewee said. "We'll continue to incorporate frequent hand washings."

Cape Girardeau Central High School principal Dr. Mike Cowan said there have been no confirmed cases of H1N1 at his school. He said the school has been in contact with the health department about what to do if a case arises. The school is also taking small steps to prepare, he said.

"We're encouraging the kids, as always, with the handwashing," he said.

Deena Ring, spokeswoman for Cape Girardeau Public School District, said the district will keep parents updated about any developments regarding the H1N1 virus through its website. All schools within the district sent letters home to parents last spring informing them on precautions students can take.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

bblackwell@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

1121 Linden St., Cape Girardeau, MO

So how worried should you be and how do you prepare? The Associated Press has tried to boil down the mass of information into 10 things you should know to be flu-savvy.

1. No cause for panic.

So far, swine flu isn\\\\\\'t much more threatening than regular seasonal flu.

During the few months of this new flu\\\\\\'s existence, hospitalizations and deaths from it seem to be lower than the average seen for seasonal flu, and the virus hasn\\\\\\'t dramatically mutated. That\\\\\\'s what health officials have observed in the Southern Hemisphere where flu season is now winding down.

Still, more people are susceptible to swine flu and U.S. health officials are worried because it hung in so firmly here during the summer -- a time of year the flu usually goes away.

2. Virus tougher on some.

Swine flu is more of a threat to certain groups -- children under 2, pregnant women, people with health problems like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Teens and young adults are also more vulnerable to swine flu.

Ordinary, seasonal flu hits older people the hardest, but not swine flu. Scientists think older people may have some immunity from exposure years earlier to viruses similar to swine flu.

3. Wash your hands often and long.

Like seasonal flu, swine flu spreads through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick. Emphasize to children that they should wash with soap and water long enough to finish singing the alphabet song, Now I know my ABC\\\\\\'s... Also use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

4. Get the children vaccinated.

These groups should be first in line for swine flu shots, especially if vaccine supplies are limited -- people 6 months to 24 years old, pregnant women, health care workers.

Also a priority: Parents and caregivers of infants, people with those high-risk medical conditions previously noted.

5. Get your shots early.

Millions of swine flu shots should be available by October. If you are in one of the priority groups, try to get your shot as early as possible.

Check with your doctor or local or state health department about where to do this. Many children should be able to get vaccinated at school. Permission forms will be sent home in advance.

6. Immunity takes awhile.

Even those first in line for shots won\\\\\\'t have immunity until around Thanksgiving.

That\\\\\\'s because it\\\\\\'s likely to take two shots, given three weeks apart, to provide protection. And it takes a week or two after the last shot for the vaccine to take full effect.

The regular seasonal flu shot should be widely available in September. People over 50 are urged to be among the first to get that shot.

7. Vaccines are being tested.

Health officials presume the swine flu vaccine is safe and effective, but they\\\\\\'re testing it to make sure.

The federal government has begun studies in eight cities across the country to assess its effectiveness and figure out the best dose. Vaccine makers are doing their own tests as well.

8. Help! Surrounded by swine flu.

If an outbreak of swine flu hits your area before you\\\\\\'re vaccinated, be extra cautious.

Stay away from public gathering places like malls, sports events and churches. Try to keep your distance from people in general. Keep washing those hands and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.

9. What if you get sick?

If you have other health problems or are pregnant and develop flu-like symptoms, call your doctor right away. You may be prescribed Tamiflu or Relenza. These drugs can reduce the severity of swine flu if taken right after symptoms start.

If you develop breathing problems (rapid breathing for children), pain in your chest, constant vomiting or a fever that keeps rising, go to an emergency room.

Most people, though, should just stay home and rest. Cough into your elbow or shoulder. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever breaks. Fluids and pain relievers like Tylenol can help with achiness and fever. Always check with a doctor before giving children any medicines. Adult cold and flu remedies are not for them.

10. No swine flu from barbecue.

You can\\\\\\'t catch swine flu from pork -- or poultry either (even though it recently turned up in turkeys in Chile). Swine flu is not spread by handling meat, whether it\\\\\\'s raw or cooked.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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