What can the public do to avoid getting the flu, including swine flu, on the chance that the disease increases its spread across the state?
Department of Health and Environmental Control Epidemiologist Jerry Gibson says particularly those in high risk groups, including young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases, should take a little extra precaution.”It would mean, for example, staying away from people with a respiratory infection, washing their hands frenquently with soap and water or with an alcohol hand rub, and notifiying their doctor if they come down with what feels like a respiratory illness,” says Gibson.
Gibson says you can also ask your doctor about preventative medications. Vaccines are still available this year for the regular seasonal flu, but they won’t be available for the swine flu for at least a few months.
Two suspected cases of swine flu from Newberry are being sent to the federal Centers for Disease control for further evaluation. A group of Newberry Academy students and three adults went on a trip to Cancun, Mexico and returned last Monday. Twelve students and one adult became ill. Twenty-two people are being tested for the swine virus.
And what about surgical masks, such as those that were so common throughout Asian countries several years ago during a flu outbreak? Gibson says researchers came to believe two years ago that they were not helpful. But he says the most recent research indicates that the masks may be helpful in reducing the spread of disease among groups of young children, who tend to have closer face-to-face contact.
And Gibson says, concerning the risk of death from the disease, that it may not be anymore life threatening than seasonal flu, which kills up to 40-thousand people in the U.S. each year. He says the excessive number of deaths in Mexico may be due to a vast number of un-reported cases.
“What is believed to be going on there is that they are not able to detect the full range of cases, that there are many, many cases of flu going on in Mexico that aren’t detected. They have to work very hard just to get the severe cases. We’re only seeing a very unrepresentative sample of cases there. What they’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg. But now that shows that this virus can produce.”
Also, Gibson says the general flu season may be running a little longer this year. Influenza viruses don’t usually survive past the season, which runs October through March of each year, because of the increased temperature and change in humidity. The group of 50 medical doctors that D.H.E.C. uses around the state to monitor the spread of disease has now been asked to report their findings on a daily, instead of weekly basis.