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Shelby prepares for swine flu

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By Scotty McDaniel

As the new swine flu pandemic makes its way across the world, Shelby County is preparing for the worst.

By Monday the swine flu had infected nearly 2,000 people and claimed more than 150 lives in Mexico alone, the country of this particular virus’s origin.

By comparison the U.S. has only been affected on a minor level.

There have been more than 50 recorded cases of the virus, though none has been fatal. They are scattered throughout New York, Ohio, Kansas, California, New Jersey and Texas.

No cases have been reported in Kentucky, but Indiana health officials on Tuesday confirmed its first official case, a student at Notre Dame.

Despite the sudden fear gripping much of the planet, President Barack Obama said Monday that though the virus is reason for concern, it was not “a cause for alarm.”

Shelby reacts

Mary Limke, an Infection Preventionist with Jewish Hospital Shelbyville, said this flu should definitely be taken seriously.

“As we look across the country, it has popped up in different areas,” she said. “Part of the problem is that nobody really understands it yet. They don’t understand how it’s being transmitted. And there’s no vaccine for it.”

It’s hard to tell the swine flu from other strains of flu and respiratory illnesses, because the symptoms are largely the same: coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches, fever, chills, even vomiting and diarrhea.

As a result, the JHS is preparing for worried patients. “We’re kind of gearing up, trying to have enough supplies on hand here in the hospital," Limke said. "I think what we’re anticipating to begin with is people coming in who don’t have it [the swine flu] but are scared that they do."

People who do come in with flu symptoms will be given masks to wear, so they don’t infect others if they are sick, she said. Rapid flu tests can check for swine flu, and if somebody did test positive for it, that sample would be sent to the state for further testing.

Because children are especially susceptible to flu, facilities such as Child Town Daycare Center in Shelbyville are trying to remain clean to fend off germs and viruses.

“Just keeping things sanitized every day is the most we can do right now. That’s what we do on a daily basis already,” Director Tina Gowers said.

The flu would be so infectious that any infected child would have to stay away from the daycare.

Shelby County schools have put together a heightened awareness plan that involves extra cleaning of the facilities. Flyers containing information from the U.S. Health Department about the flu, along with basic tips on how to stay sanitized, will be sent home with students.

“We’re not here to diagnose; we’re here to keep our students safe and healthy,  so school is in session on a routine basis,” said Gary Kidwell, director of student accounting and support services.

Echoing that idea, Charlie Frazee, director of emergency management for the Shelby County Fiscal Court, said an infected population would limit workers in schools and businesses, thereby potentially causing even more damage to a weakened economy.

“The biggest worry is that with employees off work you wouldn’t have people to teach school or work at businesses -- having the capability to move food and resources,” he said.

Like the 1918 Spanish Flu viruses, which killed about 50 million people around the world, this swine flu is of the H1N1 subtype. However, the viruses are genetically different.

The new flu strain, being described as a new subtype of A/H1N1, is a mixture of pig, bird and human viruses. There is concern that humans may not have a natural immunity to it.

Several other countries across the world also have reported cases.

The World Health Organization put the alert level at Phase 4, which indicates that there is sustained human-to-human transmission in one country. A phase 6 is a full-blown outbreak in multiple regions of the world.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans not to travel to Mexico unless it’s necessary. The CDC also called for

around 11 million doses, or 25 percent of the federal stockpile, of flu-fighting drugs to be sent to states around the U.S. Kentucky has requested around 100,000 of those treatments.