Local health officials educate public on swine flu - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Local health officials educate public on swine flu

By Christy Hendricks - email | blog

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Local health experts set out to educate the public on swine flu as the President declares a public health emergency.

"There's the concern for the pandemic potential because it's still early and we don't know how contagious it is," said Dr. Matt Shoemaker,infectious disease specialist at St. Francis Medial Center.

The number of confirmed swine flu cases is growing across the United States and in Mexico.  Monday night, 40 cases had been confirmed in the U.S.

The World Health Organization has already raised it's pandemic alert level and says the virus is capable of significant human to human transmission.

The Centers for Disease Control and the State Department have issued warnings against non-essential travel to Mexico, where the virus is believed to have killed dozens of people.

While there aren't any confirmed reports of the epidemic in the Heartland, many folks still very concerned about the swine flu. That's why health officials are focusing on educating people about the swine flu.

In fact, they have a task force in place in the event of an infectious disease outbreak.

It's made up of area physicians, representatives from the county and cities of Cape Girardeau and Jackson. The task force met Monday morning to discuss what to do in the case of a swine flu pandemic.

"We received phone calls this morning, just a few not a lot. But just a few asking some general questions about the swine flu," said Vanessa Landers, the Communicable Disease Coordinator at the Cape County Health Department.

State health officials have been on high alert since Friday.

Athough no cases of swine flu have been diagnosed locally, those at St. Francis Medical Center and Southeast Missouri Hospital aren't taking the chance. 

"We've looked at what are we going to do as far as if we get a surge of patients coming in to our emergency room," said Gayla Tripp, infection control nurse at St. Francis Medical Center. "What are we going to do with these patients? How are we going to protect ourselves and also the other patients as well as either confirm or rule out do we have a swine flu case here?"

The public health department is sending out information and asking local schools to do the same.  Cape Girardeau Public Schools sent information home with students Monday

Symptoms include fever, body aches, cough, shortness of breath, nausea, vomitting and diahrea.

"If you had human influenza which is still going around in the community, for swine flu there'd be no way to tell them apart," Dr Shoemaker said. "Whey they can it would require special testing sent to the state and then the CDC."

Those most as risk are the young, elderly, those with chronic conditions, and recent travelers.

"It's mainly going to be high risk people that's probably traveled to Mexico or someone from there has come to our country and have actually been exposed on a one to one basis," Landers said.

Preventative measures inlcude covering your coughs and sneezes and of course hand washing.

"Proper way to wash your hands would be to use soap and water for a minimum of 15 seconds," said Tripp. "After you turn the faucet off, I would use a paper towel in order to do that so that you're not recontaminating your hands. Alcohol hand gel is also effective against flu virus."

"Stay away from sick people," said Landers. "If you're sick yourself and would not normally go to the emergency room, don't go.  Stay home."

©2009 KFVS. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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