April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Outbreak Hits NYC

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U.S. health officials declared a public health emergency yesterday over the recent outbreak of swine flu.
Currently, no cases have been identified in Tompkins County or at Cornell, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett Health Services. However, 20 individuals in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the swine flu throughout New York, Texas, California, Ohio and Kansas.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, swine flu is a respiratory disease in pigs caused by influenza that rarely appears in the form of human infection. From December 2005 through February 2009, 12 human cases of swine flu were reported in 10 U.S. states. Since March 2009, a new strain of swine flu has infected individuals both domestically and internationally.
There has been 46 confirmed cases in North America and at least 1,400 suspected cases and at least 81 suspected deaths in Mexico, according to the New York Times.
Richard Besser, acting director for the CDC, said authorities expect the virus to spread, the USA TODAY reported.
In New York, eight Queens High School students tested positive for the swine flu. The students are believed to have traveled to Mexico over Spring Break, where swine flu has killed at least 81 people since April 13.
Dittman does not believe that students who spent their spring break in Mexico are at risk if they have not already shown symptoms of flu.
“The incubation period is pretty short, probably less than a week. It is unlikely that people who were in Mexico for spring break who have not yet developed symptoms would be developing symptoms [now],” Dittman said.
A New York State Department of Health press release stated that Governor David Paterson had activated the health emergency preparedness plan and put New York State on “high alert” for the swine flu. The infectious disease, epidemiology, laboratory, disaster preparedness and health systems staff are now coordinating efforts across New York to help spread awareness of the flu. A hotline has also been set up to answer questions and concerns.
“Many New Yorkers are understandably concerned about the identification of swine flu in New York State, and I want to assure everyone that New York State has the strongest statewide disease monitoring, laboratory and health care response system in the nation,” Paterson stated in the release.
25,000 individuals were alerted through the New York web-based Health Alert Network through an advisory issued on Saturday. In order to increase awareness and treatment, the DOH’s Wadsworth laboratory has developed a prioritization protocol for quick identification of the illness and implemented rapid internet reporting of suspect illness. It is also monitoring resources and in continuous communication with counties, hospitals, healthcare providers and schools.
“Although the New York cases to date have been mild, we are in close communication with clinicians and hospitals to identify more serious cases, should they occur, and to make sure all necessary resources are available for treatment,” stated Deputy Commissioner Dr. Guthrie Birkhead, head of DOH’s Office of Public Health, in the release.
Precautionary measures for both the seasonal and swine flu include washing hands with soap and water, avoiding sick individuals, staying home when sick, using tissues, keeping hands away from face, cleaning shared spaces and refraining from sharing personal items.
Additional information regarding swine flu and links to the CDC, NYSDOH and World Health Organization are available through the Gannett website. The DOH has set up a hotline for residents who want to obtain more information about the flu at 1-800-808-1987.