Local officials set for possible outbreak

Published 5:03 pm Saturday, May 2, 2009

Freeborn County Public Health Nurse Lois Ahern was not surprised when she heard there was a confirmed case of swine flu in Minnesota. And she wasn’t surprised when she heard of a probable case. And then seven more probables.

And she said she wouldn’t be surprised if a case happens to occur in Freeborn County.

“I’m not going to be surprised by anything anymore,” she said.

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But that doesn’t mean one will. She said with viruses, many outcomes can happen. Most of all, her department is prepared for an outbreak, largely because of preparations the Freeborn County Public Health Department has made over the last six years.

If there were a case in Freeborn County, the Public Health Department would start its emergency plan, which includes an emergency operations center. Officials would offer daily briefings and work closely with the Minnesota Department of Health.

The one confirmed case in Minnesota is in Cold Spring in Stearns County. The Minnesota Department of Health said eight more cases of swine flu may have been detected in the state.

Three of the sick are in Hennepin County, with one each in Isanti, Wright, Polk, Dakota and Scott counties.

On the Web:

Centers for Disease Control

Minnesota Department of Health

World Health Organization

The probable cases have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for testing.

Health officials said the sick did not require hospitalization and are at home expected to make a full recovery.

The Minnesota Department of Health has set up a hot line to deal with questions about the swine flu, which U.S. health officials are now calling the H1N1 virus. The hot line is (800) 657-3903.

The public message that Ahern and public health officials worldwide want to get out is this:

 Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough and sneeze. In fact, it is good to wash for at least 30 seconds. Alcohol-based cleansers are effective, too.

 Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze or use your sleeve if you need to. Throw the tissue in a trash can when you are through with it.

 Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Stay home if you become sick so to limit contact with others.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control states “influenza is thought to spread person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.”

Ahern and public health officials worldwide also note that swine flu resembles the common flu: fever, cough runny nose, chills, body aches, tiredness and possibly vomiting and diarrhea.

Ahern said if you have had the sudden onset of those symptoms, visit your doctor. If you fit those symptoms and have been to Mexico or to places where the virus is present in the past seven days, such as Cold Spring in Stearns County, lab tests could be in order.

Ahern said people should call their health care provider to discuss symptoms before they go get checked.

Ahern said, though there has been one death of a toddler, the H1N1 flu is a mild flu. She said by hitting in the spring, it gives health officials six months to prepare a vaccine and other measures before the virus possibly returns for the northern hemisphere’s cold months. Viruses mutate, so it could return stronger or weaker or, like in 1976, just fizzle out. The 1918 Spanish flu started mild and returned as more severe in the fall.

“We would expect a vaccine to be available,” Ahern said.

The Freeborn County Public Health Department and other local agencies that deal with emergencies received federal funding in the past six years to prepare for emergencies natural or man-made. More recently, the Public Health Department was prepared for an avian flu outbreak. It even now has a Preparedness Committee with officials ranging from schools to emergency management.

“The work we have done for avian flu is good groundwork for what we have now,” she said.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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