Health & Science

Health officials in 'increased surveillance mode'

Tri-City public health officials are in "increased surveillance mode" now that 40 cases of swine flu have been confirmed in the U.S.

But there are no known cases in the Tri-Cities or the state, and people shouldn't panic, said Dr. Larry Jecha, health officer of the Benton-Franklin Health District.

"It won't hurt you to be more cautious than normal," he said.

Swine flu is a respiratory illness that's usually found in pigs. The type that has infected people in the U.S. is new and is passed from person to person through coughs and sneezes, according to the state Department of Health.

People don't get the strain from pigs or from eating pork, the health department said.

The U.S. cases are in California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas. They've been mild cases and no one in the U.S. has died.

However, seven people with confirmed cases in Mexico have died, according to the World HealthOrganization, and the virus is suspected in as many as 150 deaths there.

There also have been cases in Canada and Spain.

Jecha said the health district is talking daily with state health officials and keeping a close eye on information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.

Tri-City doctors are being asked to test people with flulike symptoms -- such as a fever or sore throat -- who've recently been to Mexico or other places with outbreaks, the health district said.

The Tri-City area has many people with ties to Mexico, and the health district has heard from lots of concerned citizens, Jecha said.

The outbreak means no migrant workers will be issued visas until May 6, said Dan Fazio, director of employer services for the Washington Farm Bureau.

Two groups of workers headed for Washington were scheduled to cross the border through the H-2A program between now and then, he said, totaling 80 to 100 workers.

But those crossings will have to be rescheduled, Fazio said.

The health district is keeping its website updated, and there also is a special flu line that people can call for information.

Jecha said the district has done its best to help the community get ready for an outbreak. He and other district officials have been putting on presentations for years on what to do in case of a pandemic.

"I've given I don't know how many lectures. We've tried to get the community prepared," he said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday that she's asked the CDC for doses of an anti-viral medicine to treat 230,000 people in preparation for a possible outbreak.

"I want it readily available in case it becomes necessary," she said. "There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for the people of this state to panic, but all need to be vigilant."

The anti-viral medicine will help treat the flu but will not prevent it. There is no current vaccine for this flu variant.

Swine flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat and may include lack of appetite, runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Anyone with these symptoms should see a doctor immediately, health officials said.

Jecha said people should take the precautions they would to prevent other illnesses, such as colds or different flu strains.

"Cover your cough, wash your hands and (practice) good hygiene," he said. "And if you're sick, don't go to work."

The Benton-Franklin Health District's flu line is 509-460-4358. The website is www.bfhd.wa.gov.

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