Categories: Headliner Date: May 1, 2009 Title: Don’t panic, pay attention
On Thursday, the World Heath Organization (WHO) raised the influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to 5 out of 6 levels. All countries, including the United States, have been urged to immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. A pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of an illness for which humans have no immunity. A stage 5 alert includes signals that the virus is becoming increasingly adept at spreading among humans and requires heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases.
By Robin Scott
On Thursday, the World Heath Organization (WHO) raised the influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to 5 out of 6 levels. All countries, including the United States, have been urged to immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. A pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of an illness for which humans have no immunity. A stage 5 alert includes signals that the virus is becoming increasingly adept at spreading among humans and requires heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases. Dr. Margaret Chan, General Director of WHO, released a statement Thursday announcing the decision to raise the level of alert. In her address she reminded people that the world is more prepared to handle a pandemic illness than at any other time in history.
During President Obama’s third prime-time address Wednesday evening, he stated that he has requested an immediate 1.5 billion in emergency funding from Congress. The funding is earmarked to support governmental ability to monitor and track the swine flu virus. He stated, "We are continuing to closely monitor the emergency cases of the H1N1 flu virus throughout the United States. As I said this morning, this is obviously a very serious situation, and every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations." He further stated that U.S. public health officials have recommended that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of this flu consider temporarily closing. He noted, "And if more schools are forced to close, we’ve recommended that both parents and businesses think about contingency plans if their children do have to stay home."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acting director Dr. Richard Besser declared a public heath emergency at White House press conference Sunday. Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova warns that the epidemic is entering an extremely dangerous phase with the number of people coming down with the disease mushrooming, even as authorities desperately ramped up defenses. In a news conference he stated, "We are in the most critical moment of the epidemic. The number of cases will keep rising, so we have to reinforce preventative measures."
In Dalhart, local officials are monitoring the swine flu outbreak carefully. They take part in a conference call with the Texas Department of Health and the Texas Education Agency every afternoon for updates and information. The office of the Governor provides up to date information on its website. On Wednesday, the website reported, "Governor Rick Perry bolstered the state’s precautionary measures to address the swine flu threat as a result of confirmed cases in certain parts of the state by issuing a disaster declaration for the entire state of Texas. The disaster declaration allows the state to implement emergency protective measures and seek reimbursement under the federal Stafford Act for protective measures associated with the state’s response to this public health threat." Dallam-Hartley Counties Hospital District stated Thursday that no cases of swine flu have been reported locally.
Information available from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Governor Rick Perry’s Office, and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is disseminated daily regarding the swine flu outbreak that has reached the State of Texas. On Wednesday, April 29th, the CDC confirmed the first fatality from the virus in the United States which occurred in Texas. The victim was a young boy from Mexico City who arrived in Texas around the first of April to visit family in Brownsville. After becoming ill, he was admitted to a Houston hospital and diagnosed with swine flu.
Swine influenza is a virus that is caused by any strain of the influenza virus endemic in pigs. Although swine flu is common in swine, it is rare in humans. People who have intense exposure with pigs are at great risk of catching swine influenza if the swine carry a strain able to infect humans. The strains are rarely able to pass from human to human.
Symptoms that people should be mindful of are chills, fever, sore throat, muscle pains, severe headache, coughing, weakness and general discomfort. The strain of the current outbreak of swine flu is said to cause only mild symptoms and the infected persons should recover within a few days.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the CDC and state and local public health officials are investigating swine influenza cases in people in several U.S. states, including Texas. Investigations are ongoing to determine the source of the infection and whether additional people have been infected with swine influenza viruses.
The CDC reported Thursday, "The more recent illnesses and the reported death suggest that a pattern of more severe illness associated with this virus may be emerging in the U.S. Most people will not have immunity to this new virus, and as it continues to spread, more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths are expected in the coming days and weeks."
The Fort Worth Independent School District has closed all schools within the district beginning Thursday, April 30th, and schools will probably remain closed through at least May 11th. The decision occurred after one case of swine flu was confirmed on one campus. Other unconfirmed cases have been reported. Superintendent Melody Johnson, Mrs. Lou Brewer, director of the Tarrant County Public Health Department, and Dr. Sandra Parker, medical director of the Tarrant County Public Health Department, jointly made the announcement at a news conference Wednesday evening. Dr. Johnson stated, "We have been diligently following the recommendations of our local public health authorities since this crisis first began."
DISD Superintendent David Foote is closely monitoring the health, safety and welfare of students in Dalhart. He commented, "The best defense against any contagious illness is washing hands frequently." He urges parents and students, "To wash hands, not eat after each other or drink after each other." He noted that the district nurse, Jamie Stevenson always tells the kids to, "Wash, wash, wash." He stated that the State of Texas is monitoring the swine flu outbreak closely and listening in on the daily telephone conferences. He commented, "The state has done a good job of informing everyone."
For more information on the swine flu virus see www.dshs.state.tx.us and www.governor.state.tx.us and www.cdc.gov and www.who.int.