Swine flu hits U.S., but not yet in N.C.
Published 5:44 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Local officials gear up to combat ‘fluid virus’
So far, the disease in U.S. is non-lethal and treatable
By TED STRONG
Local officials are waiting for swine flu to arrive in North Carolina and think they’ll be able to handle it when it gets here.
The disease first was sighted in Mexico, where it is responsible for an unknown number of deaths. It has since spread to the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 40 cases of the disease, none of them fatal.
Roxanne Holloman, director of the Beaufort County Department of Health, was on a conference call Monday morning with state health officials, who have also activated the N.C. Public Health Coordination Center in Raleigh.
Holloman said officials think they’ll have to worry about outbreaks springing up in geographically disparate places, and that containment is unlikely to prove effective.
The health department has let doctors’ offices, the Beaufort County Medical Center, child care providers and schools know what to look for and what to do if they find swine flu.
Folks coming in with the flu will be tested by their doctors to rule out more-common types of flu. If swine flu isn’t ruled out, patients can be referred to the state for further tests.
Whitfield said the disease can be picked up by standing closer than three feet to an infected person or handling objects touched recently by an infected person. Officials believe the virus is spreading from human to human, not from pigs to human, Holloman said.
If anyone tests positive, he or she should be isolated and stay at home, Holloman said.
Officials think swine flu patients are contagious from possibly before symptoms appear until about seven days after they begin.
The state has requested about a quarter of the antiviral drugs in its federal stockpile and other supplies, according to an e-mail from Holloman.
But even if preventative measures fail, the disease hasn’t proven very virulent in the U.S. so far and has proven responsive to antiviral drugs, Whitfield said.
More virulent symptoms have been reported in Mexico, but officials Monday hadn’t yet worked out why the flu was deadlier there than in the U.S.
Schools in other parts of the country have had to close because of the swine flu, but the disease has yet to be reported in North Carolina.
Beaufort County Schools’ officials are awaiting direction from state health officials.
The National Pork Council issued a statement assuring the public that pork is still safe to eat; the North Carolina Department of Agriculture &Consumer Services also sought to reassure residents.
In the statement, secretary of agriculture Steve Troxler encouraged hog farmers to practice good bio-security and be aware of international travel by farm workers.
For general information about the swine flu, the public can call the N.C. Department of Health &Human Services at 800-662-7030.
Cutline for corresponding photo: Billie Whitfield, Beaufort County Medical Center infection control preventionist, displays a packet of information about the swine flu she sent to the center’s emergency department and to outlying practices the hospital owns. (WDN Photo/Paul Dunn)