Uncertainty spreads swine flu fears

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 4, 2009

By David Vitrano

LAPLACE—Perhaps one of the most destructive aspects of the recent outbreak of swine flu (or H1N1) is the uncertainty involved with the disease.

“Different Web sites have different information,” said Infection Preventionist/Risk Manager for River parishes Hospital Karen Barrois, adding, “No one can confirm a case except the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).”

Although reports vary, according to the CDC’s Web site, at this juncture 109 cases have been confirmed in 11 states across the United States. There have been seven confirmed cases in Louisiana —five in Lafayette Parish and one each in Orleans and Ascension parishes. Other cases remain under investigation.

Only one death in the United States has been confirmed.

Worldwide, 11 countries have confirmed cases of the virus.

One factor making the detection of this flu strain more difficult is its symptoms are identical to that of the “regular” flu—fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, nasal congestion body aches and, sometimes, vomiting and diarrhea. Couple that with the fact this outbreak is coming as flu season is winding down in the US, and the uncertainty factor is multiplied.

The timing, however, may ultimately work in the nation’s favor. According to Barrois, although it may take a few months to develop a vaccine, cases may subside as summer approaches.

One more advantage the public has is the level of awareness in present-day society.

“Everyone’s become more aware and alert since the avian influenza scare,” said Syl Pawol, director of Quality at River Parishes Hospital. “Everyone basically knows what to do already.”

In the meantime, the public should rest assured that precautions have been made.

“Here at River Parishes, we have our pandemic plan, and we feel we will be prepared if we have an outbreak in our community,” said Barrois.

As no cases have as yet been reported in the River Parishes, local schools remain open but vigilant.

St. John Superintendent Courtney Millet said the district is providing hand sanitizer for every classroom and calling for special visits from school nurses to stress thorough hand washing and early visits to a doctor if flu symptoms develop. Informational fliers have also been posted throughout parish schools.

“We want to take every precaution to keep our children safe, so we are taking this opportunity to increase our supply of germ-killing cleansers in all our classrooms and to create greater awareness about how good hygiene can help prevent the spread of disease and bacteria,” Millet said.

This strategy is in keeping with that recommended by Barrois and Pawol.

“We don’t want anyone to panic over this. They need to be alert, and they need to practice good hand hygiene and avoid contact with sick people,” Barrois noted.

The most accurate and up-to-date information can be found on the CDC’s Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swine/.