State Health Department officials say they’re prepared for cases of swine flu in Oklahoma. "Oklahoma has taken the emerging of this new flu virus very seriously,” Rocky McElvany, interim commissioner of health, said Monday. "In Oklahoma, we are ready to respond.” Cases of a new strain of swine flu have been reported in New York, Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California. No one in the U.S. is known to have died of the illness. Oklahomans are asked to use caution when traveling to Mexico, the apparent epicenter of the disease’s outbreak. The state Health Department has a stockpile of antiviral drugs for 65,000 courses of antiviral drugs to treat infected people. A course is a series of doses needed during a prescribed period of treatment. The state will get 135,000 more drug courses from the federal government. There have been no confirmed human cases of the new swine flu in Oklahoma. "We anticipate finding cases in Oklahoma very soon,” state Epidemiologist Kristy Bradley said. She said Oklahomans should not panic because the U.S. cases have not been as severe as those in Mexico, where deaths are reported.
Using cautionOklahoma doctors have been asked to send nasal or throat swabs from patients with flu-like symptoms to the state’s public health laboratory for testing. County health departments also are monitoring the situation. Health officials say Oklahomans can take actions to protect themselves, including frequent hand washing and staying home if they or their children become ill with flu-like symptoms. Dr. Ronald Greenfield, an infectious disease specialist with OU Physicians, said while a pandemic is possible, it’s more likely the outbreak will fizzle out. "There are pockets of infections around the United States, but it hasn’t really spread outside those pockets,” he said. He said families don’t need to stock up on face masks but should make plans about what to do if they can’t go to work or their kids can’t go to school. Gov. Brad Henry said his office is monitoring the situation with health care and emergency management officials. "In the meantime, I urge Oklahomans to take common-sense measures to guard against the illness,” he said. "Panic is not helpful, but caution is. That means practicing proper hygiene and visiting a health care provider if you start having symptoms consistent with the flu.”
Hard-to-treat virusSwine flu is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a type-A influenza virus. Outbreaks in pigs occur year-round. The current strain is a new variation of an H1N1 virus, which is a mix of human and animal versions. When the flu spreads from person-to-person, it can continue to mutate, making it harder to treat. The current flu vaccine will not ward off swine flu, but could help lessen symptoms from infection, said Gillian Air, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Air and other scientists have been working with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation to develop antibodies that could be effective against flu strains. Air said samples will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control to test against the new strain of swine flu.
• For more information about swine flu, call the state Health Department’s toll-free number at (866) 278-7134. Calls will be answered 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
• Get updated information about swine flu and prevention tips in "know it: Flu, pneumonia & allergies.” knowit.newsok.com/flu
Tips to staying healthy and avoid spreading illness
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw away the tissue.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• If you get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others.
About the virusWhat is swine flu? Swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by type-A influenza viruses, which are blamed for regular outbreaks in pigs. Swine flu viruses can spread from person to person, but in the past, this transmission was limited and not sustained beyond three people. What are the signs and symptoms? The symptoms are similar to regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may worsen other medical conditions. How does swine flu spread? Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of infected people. Sometimes, people may become infected by touching something with flu virus particles on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Are there medicines to treat swine flu? Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends oseltamivir or zanamivir for treatment or prevention of infection with these swine flu viruses. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. They work best if started within two days of symptoms. When should I seek emergency medical care? In children, warning signs include trouble breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking enough fluids, not waking up, not interacting, irritability and fever with a rash. In adults, emergency warning signs also include pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion and severe or persistent vomiting.