eventually may strike in SD First flu-related death seen in Texas; possible case in Minnesota By David Lias
Plain Talk Vermillion physician Mary Jo Olson spent her free time Wednesday afternoon in her office, surrounded with files and other paperwork. The computer on her desk was logged on to the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) Twitter page, filled with a long list of the latest information about swine flu. The outbreak of disease in people caused by this new influenza virus of swine origin continues to grow in the United States and internationally. The latest news reports Wednesday made mention of the first swine flu death in the United States, mainly Texas. There are also reports of a probable case of swine flu in Minnesota, prompting Olson to state there is a growing likelihood that a South Dakotan may eventually be infected by the virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted Wednesday that the more recent illnesses and the reported death suggest that a pattern of more severe illness associated with this virus may be emerging in the U.S. Most people will not have immunity to this new virus and, as it continues to spread, more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths are expected in the coming days and weeks. "I suppose we may have a case in South Dakota eventually," Olson said Wednesday. "I suspect we will with people traveling, but I don't know for sure." Olson said it's important to not travel to Mexico if possible. "If you don't have some imminent need to be in Mexico, don't go there," she said. Olson said it's important to avoid areas where swine flu has been detected, because the flu shots that are a normal part of trying to stay healthy in the United States don't protect individuals from the swine flu virus. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, the South Dakota Public Health Laboratory had tested 21 specimens and all have been negative for swine flu. Approximately 100 specimens were expected Wednesday. According to the state health department's Web site, the state will continue to provide updates and will plan to schedule media conference calls as the situation changes. CDC has implemented its emergency response. The agency's goals are to reduce transmission and illness severity, and provide information to help health care providers, public health officials and the public address the challenges posed by the new virus. On Tuesday, CDC issued new interim guidance for clinicians on how to care for children and pregnant women who may be infected with this virus. Young children and pregnant women are two groups of people who are at high risk of serious complications from seasonal influenza. In addition, CDC's Division of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) continues to send antiviral drugs, personal protective equipment, and respiratory protection devices to all 50 states and U.S. territories to help them respond to the outbreak. The swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is susceptible to the prescription antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir. This is a rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated guidance and new information as it becomes available. "Children 5 and under are more susceptible," Olson said, "certainly if they long-term problems such as diabetes or respiratory problems, such as asthma or other problems which may cause their health to be compromised. "Pregnant ladies are at increased risk, and so are people who have a chronic health problem," she said. The World Health Organization has upgraded the current outbreak of swine flu to a pandemic alert of 4. Phase 4 is characterized by verified human-to-human transmission of an influenza virus that is able to cause "community-level outbreaks." The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic. Even though there is no vaccine to offer protection from the virus, there are steps individuals can take to hopefully avoid the illness. "Avoid close contact with people who are sick," Olson said. "Close contact is considered approximately six feet away. If you have to take care of someone who has a confirmed case, you probably should be wearing a mask, and the patient should be masked also." She also advises ill people to stay home, and hopefully recover. Going to work while sick only raises the chance that the illness will be passed on to co-workers. "Cover your mouth if you are going to sneeze or cough," Olson said. "Throw away your tissue, and wash your hands. Washing your hands is one of the best preventative steps you can take." She urges South Dakotans to face the swine flu by being proactive. "Sleep the normal amount of sleep, eat well, drink clean water. Have healthy habits." Swine flu symptoms include fever over 100 degrees, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, headache, body aches, fatigue and perhaps diarrhea. "All of those symptoms can be anything else, too, but they tend to hit pretty hard (with swine flu). You can be quite sick with it," Olson said. Anyone who suspects they may be infected should visit his or her physician. Tests can be run to determine if the illness is indeed swine flu. Olson said she has received many inquiries concerning swine flu from her patients and other acquaintances. "They all want my opinion," she said, laughing. The Vermillion physician said one factor that may lessen the severity of this flu outbreak is its timing. "I think in one sense we're lucky that it came in the spring rather than the fall or winter," she said. "School is going to release soon, the weather is getting better, and people are going to be outside rather than clustered inside. "The spread, I think, will lessen," Olson said. "I think it will dissipate a lot quicker than say if the outbreak had occurred in December."