Officials bet state will face swine flu

The swine flu hasn’t made it to Mississippi, but state health officials are betting that it will.
“Cases are almost certain to appear in Mississippi,” said Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson during conference call with reporters Monday.
“The strain has the potential to be pandemic, but it has not yet become pandemic,” Thompson said. “We are responding to it as a potential pandemic.”
At this point, there are no plans to close schools or cancel community events. Thompson and state epidemiologist Dr. Mary Currier advised common sense precautions as health officials wait to see what develops.
“If it becomes a pandemic, it’s likely to milder than pandemics in 1957 or 1968,” Thompson said, referring to the flu epidemics that that killed more than 100,000 people combined.
More than 100 are reported dead in Mexico and thousands are ill as the result of the new strain of flu virus. In the United States, 41 cases in five states have been confirmed in a laboratory, but so far all the cases have been mild and most have already recovered.
As of Monday afternoon, the Mississippi State Health Department lab had 10 specimens being tested, but none was yet considered a suspected case.
Any suspected cultures will be sent on the Centers for Disease Control lab for definitive testing.
Because the swine flu strain is new, the human body has no immunity to it, Thompson said.
“We will eventually see more severe cases,” in the U.S., Thompson said.
It’s likely there will be hospitalizations and deaths with the swine flu, Thompson said. The seasonal flu kills about 36,000 Americans each year; people with already weakened respiratory or immune systems are typically the most vulnerable
As safety precautions, Thompson suggested healthy hygiene practices: wash your hands frequently, and cough and sneeze into your sleeve.
If you develop flu-like symptoms – sudden onset of a fever, cough, aches, chills, runny nose – contact your health care provider, Thompson said. They may have special instructions to minimize exposure of other people.
Then stay home and keep any sick children home, so they don’t pass the germs to others, Thompson said.
North Mississippi Health Services has been reinforcing protocol for its emergency departments and clinics as reports of the swine flu have surfaced, said Julie McCord, infection control leader for the North Mississippi Medical Center system.
Patients who come in with flu-like symptoms will be asked to wear a surgical mask, and staff will try to get them into a room quickly or separate them from others, McCord said.
There will be extra handwashing and precautions, but patients with flu symptoms won’t need special isolation rooms.
Currently, it seems antiviral medicines Tamiflu and Relunza can be used against the new strain of swine flu to reduce the severity and duration of the disease, Thompson said.
The state has asked for its full allottment of Tamiflu from the national stockpile. That will give the state health department some 375,000 doses, in addition to what pharmacies have in stock.
Travel considerations
For those who plan to travel, it’s probably “jumping the gun to cancel summer vacations,” said Jeff Lambert, office manager and travel agent with Global Travel in Tupelo, who was fielding lots of calls about Mexico trips Monday.
“It’s not affecting the tourist areas,” Lambert said. “There’s no warning for Cancun.”
However, travel agents are updating people with warnings about violence and the swine flu outbreak, he said.
“Anyone should watch (for warnings) anywhere they travel,” Lambert said.
Both First Presbyterian and First United Methodist Church in Tupelo are taking wait-and-see approaches to their summer mission trips to Mexico.
First United Methodist is slated to take two dozen adults to build, provide medical care and hold Bible school in Jojutla south of Mexico City in July.
“We’ve had a couple of cancellations, but they weren’t due to swine flu. They were for other reasons,” said the Rev. Andy Ray, First United Methodist Church pastor. “We’ll be listening closely to what the CDC says, but we’re not going to panic and we don’t anticipate canceling.”
Already First Presbyterian has limited the trip to Miguel Aleman, Mexico, to adults only.
“This year we’ve been wrestling with it because of the violence,” said Forrest Foxworth, First Presbyterian youth minister. “Already there are 25 families who won’t get a house built this year” because of other groups canceling.
“We have to balance responsibility with love and duty as well.”
Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@djournal.com.

Michaela Morris/NEMS Daily Journal