People need to be smart, not panicked, when it comes to H1N1 swine flu, state health officials say.
As of Monday, swine flu cases had been confirmed in the states surrounding Mississippi, but none yet in this state. In all, there are 279 confirmed cases in 36 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“So far, it’s a relatively mild seasonal flu-type illness,” said Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson.
Still, the swine flu shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“The flu is not trivial,” Thompson said. “Hundreds of Mississippians die from the flu each year.”
Because the swine flu virus is new, health care officials don’t have their best weapon – a vaccine.
Geography, not severity
The term “pandemic” doesn’t reflect the severity of a disease outbreak, only that a new disease has spread to multiple regions of the world, Thompson said.
With the exception of the 1918 pandemic, most pandemic flus have been largely been no more deadly than seasonal flu.
The World Health Organization has set the alert level just short of worldwide pandemic.
The Mississippi State Health Department has received additional anti-viral medication from the national stockpile. The state lab is slated to get the materials it needs to test for swine flu at the state health department lab.
Health officials are working closely with the state school officials to coordinate any school closings, should they be warranted.
“We are as prepared as any state is,” Thompson said. “But this is a virus, a product of Mother Nature. … We’re never going to outsmart her.”
What to do
Unless there are confirmed swine flu cases in your community, Thompson said it isn’t necessary for people to take precautions beyond good hand-washing and cough etiquette.
In communities where the swine flu is active, people may want to consider distancing themselves socially by avoiding places with large groups or canceling big gatherings.
People who are vulnerable to complications with any flu, such as infants, small children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic conditions, may want to consider isolating themselves if the swine flu hits their town.
“If swine flu is in the community, it might be wise to avoid large public settings,” Thompson said.
The Centers for Disease Control is currently recommending that schools consider closing for 14 days if they have a confirmed case of swine flu.
College campuses should treat themselves as communities and look at what measures should be taken to cancel large gatherings.
But if the swine flu is already circulating widely in a community, it may not help to send home those students who are currently healthy.
“It’s too late to contain the epidemic,” Thompson said. “The goal now is to blunt it.”
Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal