By Carla Branch and James Cullum
With concerns about a potential swine flu pandemic increasing, Alexandria Health Director, Lisa Kaplowitz, briefed the Alexandria City Council on the latest information.
“We do not currently have any confirmed cases of swine flu in Virginia or in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area,” Kaplowitz said. “However, the Virginia Commissioner of Health is communicating regularly with all of the local health directors and we are in touch with other public officials. We are out in front of this potential emergency and don’t want anyone to panic.”
Cases of swine flu were first confirmed in Mexico in February and quickly spread to countries throughout the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the first confirmed case of swine flu was reported in the United States on March 28. Today, there are 91 confirmed cases in 10 states: one 51 cases in New York City; 16 in Texas; 14 in California; two cases each in Kansas, Massachusetts and Michigan and single cases in Arizona, Indiana, Nevada and Ohio, according to the CDC. Some countries have cancelled all flights from Mexico but the U. S. government has not done so. The State Department has recommended limiting all nonessential travel to Mexico.
“Is that enough?” asked Vice Mayor Redella S. “Del” Pepper. “I mean, aren’t we more at risk for an outbreak in the Washington metropolitan area because of the amount of travel here?”
Kaplowitz said that, “we are carefully monitoring the situation and will take all appropriate actions. We have a regional quarantine facility at Dulles Airport, which is very good. That has only happened in the past five years. Our closest quarantine facility used to be at Kennedy Airport in New York.”
Alexandria Plans Ahead
In 2005, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, convened a working group on a possible Bird Flu pandemic that never materialized but, “we have already developed a plan that we can use should the need arise now,” Euille said.
The most recent version of Alexandria’s Pandemic Flu Response Plan was released in November, 2007. The plan calls for a comprehensive communication strategy; the possible opening of community care stations to diminish the impact of a pandemic on the City’s medical system with pre-hospital triage and support; identification of alternative care facilities to provide more demanding medical care outside a hospital setting; legal and isolation law enforcement procedures for an isolation and quarantine order with extensive involvement of the Circuit Court and legal community; and possible provisions of food, water and medicine for people unable to leave their homes.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools, John Porter, was a member of that planning group. “The plan is in place and the school system is in close contact with all appropriate City officials,” Porter told Council.
The swine flu, like most other types of flu viruses, is spread from human to human. “The key is to wash your hands often, cover your mouth when you cough and stay at home if you are sick,” Kaplowitz said. “The flu vaccine that we delivered this year will not protect you from the swine flu. However, it is treatable with certain types of antivirals such as Tamiflu and Relenza, which are being made available to healthcare systems in affected areas.”
According to the Virginia Department of Health, “the symptoms of swine flu are similar to seasonal influenza and typically include fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and runny nose. Additional symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, headache, chills, fatigue, pneumonia and respiratory failure. Persons with swine flu are contagious for up to seven days after the onset of illness and possibly longer if they are still symptomatic.”
Allergy season has just begun in the metropolitan area and people are urged not to confuse the symptoms. “People with swine flu are typically going to have fevers of 101 or 102,” Kaplowitz said. “If you have a high fever, call your healthcare provider.”
For more information, visit the VDH or CDC web sites.