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5:53 AM Sun, Oct. 21st

Officials prepare for flu's arrival

KRMC infectious disease specialist says there’s no need to panic

KINGMAN - Local physicians are on heightened alert this week as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to monitor an outbreak of swine flu that has infected more than 1,600 in Mexico, as well as dozens more in the U.S. and overseas.

While no cases of swine flu have yet been identified in Kingman, Mohave County, or Arizona, health officials at all three levels are working with local health care providers to keep a close watch on any reports of flu-like symptoms. Jamie Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Kingman Regional Medical Center, said emergency room physicians are already asking patients exhibiting symptoms about any recent travel they may have undertaken.

"We're working closely with the Mohave County Health Department to report any patients who come in with flu-like illness, and they will be tested through the Arizona Department of Health Services," Taylor said.

The assistant superintendant for the Kingman Unified School District, Betsy Parker, said that the district has prepared for the swine flu by distributing clinician fact sheets to all of its nurses, telling them what to watch for.

"We really stress the hand sanitizing, the tissues - throwing them away, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough," Parker said. "The nurses are good about sending the kids home if they have a fever and appear to be sick."

According to a news release from the CDC, swine flu is a respiratory disease in pigs that is caused by the type A influenza virus. The flu currently spreading between humans is a variation of the swine flu virus, called swine flu A, or H1N1.

As of Monday, the CDC confirmed 40 cases of human swine flu infections in California, Texas, Kansas, New York City and Ohio. All 40 U.S. cases thus far have exhibited only mild flu-like illness, with no reported deaths and only one case requiring a brief hospitalization. The disease has wrought havoc in its source country of Mexico, however, where nearly 2,000 have been hospitalized and at least 149 have died as a suspected result of the virus.

Dr. Jakullah Khan is an infectious diseases specialist at KRMC. He said that this is not the first time a strain of swine influenza has mutated to adapt to humans, though it is unusual in how far it has managed to spread since its initial outbreak.

"It's not something that's never happened before, but this time the number of people involved are greater," Khan said. "There is a fear of a pandemic, but we have not gotten to that state yet. People should not be panicking about these things."

Currently, the CDC believes swine flu is being spread between humans in the same fashion as the regular seasonal flu, mainly through sneezing and coughing, as well as touching the eyes, nose or mouth after first touching an infected surface. Swine flu symptoms have also proven similar to the standard flu, and consist of fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, possibly accompanied with diarrhea and vomiting.

The CDC has warned that person-to-person infection can occur a day before symptoms develop, and up to seven days after a person has become sick.

"Typically the symptoms should be there from day one to day five, with a maximum of seven days," Dr. Khan said. "Once somebody has symptoms similar to flu, they should really contact their physicians and stay home, unless they become very, very sick."

Khan said patients should avoid going to the emergency room unless the situation warrants it, as it can increase the risk of spreading the airborne infection. However, he said, those experiencing advanced symptoms such as difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest and abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, or severe vomiting should seek immediate medical attention.

Khan noted that swine flu is susceptible to several antiviral influenza medications, particularly oseltamivir and zanamivir, which can be obtained through a doctor's prescription under the respective trade names Tamiflu and Relenza.

To avoid infection, the CDC has advised basic precautions including washing your hands often or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. For those who do contract the disease, the CDC recommends staying at home and covering the nose and mouth whenever you sneeze or cough to avoid spreading infection.

For more information on swine flu, call the CDC toll-free emergency hotline at (866) 409-4099 or visit http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/key_facts.htm.