Levy Health Department prepares for back-to-school Swine Flu

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By Kellie Parkin

As Students head back to school next week, The Levy County Health Department is preparing for potential widespread Novel H1N1 (Swine Flu) outbreaks as soon as school starts.

“We know we’re going to have clusters of outbreaks when school starts next week,” said Barbara Locke, Levy County Health Department Administrator.

“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” Locke said. “We expect to see clusters of cases – maybe five to 10 at this school one week, and then another five to 10 at that school.”

As of Aug. 18, Levy County has 34 confirmed cases of the Swine Flu virus, Locke said. “There are multiple additional cases that have not been confirmed – many people don’t ever go to the doctor for the flu.”

In Florida there have been 2915 confirmed Swine Flu cases, 339 hospital admissions and approximately 80 deaths, Locke said. As of July 24, the U.S. has 43,771 confirmed cases, 7,511 hospital cases and 477 deaths, Locke said.

“We’re ready for outbreaks,” Locke said. “We have plans in place and we’ve practiced.”

The Swine Flu vaccine is currently in production and being tested for efficiency. “A vaccine is being produced as we speak,” she said. “The goal is to have it ready by October.”

The health department will first administer the vaccine to a target group especially at risk for Swine Flu. “Pregnant women are a real concern,” Locke said. “And the 24-49 age group (with other medical issues). It’s different from the seasonal flu that way – older people aren’t as effected.”

Locke said that more than half of all people who have died from Swine Flu have had an underlying chronic illness. People born before 1957 are more likely to have previously circulated antibodies against the H1N1 virus, and may have protection against it.

Others targeted for the vaccine include health care workers and emergency services personnel, people caring for infants under 6 months of age, children and young adults from 6 months to 24 years, and people aged 25 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions (e.g. asthma, diabetes).

Until the vaccines are ready, Health Department officials hope to reduce and delay the number of Swine Flu cases by educating the public on how to avoid the illness and what to do if infected. “We expect a few months of flu activity before the vaccines are available,” Locke said.

Preventing the spread

Levy County Health officials recommend the following steps:

•Wash your hands often

•Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow, when a tissue is not available

•Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth

•Keep highly touched surfaces and objects clean

•Try to stay in good general health: get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food

•Stay home if sick

•Get vaccinated as soon as vaccines become available (for seasonal flu) and if you are in the target group (for H1N1 swine flu)

“Remember that you’re more likely to spread when you have a fever or a cough. When you cough, you’re coughing out droplets, and they go out six to eight feet from you,” Locke said. “And the virus can live for two to eight hours on surfaces.”

“A high fever and a cough are significant,” Locke said. “Nausea and vomiting are also symptoms that make this a little different.” The normal body aches of the seasonal flu also accompany the Swine Flu, she said.

People who have been sick should stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone – without the help of fever-reducing medication. Health officials are requiring that people who work in the healthcare field to wait at least five days before returning to work, Locke said.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.