Friday, June 26, 2009

County leaders track swine flu

State says 2 cases of H1N1 flu confirmed in Blaine County

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County officials gathered in Hailey on Wednesday to discuss how best to respond to an outbreak of H1N1 "swine" flu should it ever occur in the county.

The private meeting was called after reports from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare indicated there have been two confirmed cases of the new strain of flu in Blaine County. Both patients—a 22-month-old child and a 45-year-old adult—are recovering at home, the agency reported.

According to Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen, the meeting was the beginning of an effort to come up with a more proactive approach to educating the public.

"Public education is such an important component of this," he said.

Most importantly, he said, the county doesn't want the public to have to rely on word of mouth to get information about the status of the H1N1 flu.

"In the absence of good information, rumors fill the void," he said.

Officials also don't want to take an "alarmist approach" to the issue, he said.

Statewide, there have been 63 confirmed cases of the flu, according to the Department of Health and Welfare. So far, there have been no known fatalities from the flu in Idaho.

The World Health Organization recently changed the name of the virus from Novel Influenza A (H1N1) virus to Pandemic H1N1 virus, in response to its global spread, not because of its severity, the Department of Health and Welfare reported. There is currently no vaccine against the Pandemic H1N1 virus.

Among the local emergency officials present at the meeting were Blaine County Disaster Services Coordinator Chuck Turner and representatives from St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center. Also present were representatives from the Blaine County School District, Blaine County Coroner's Office, Wood River Fire and Rescue and Friedman Memorial Airport.

Schoen said a big part of the county's educational outreach will involve connecting with tourists who visit this summer. He said Wood River Fire and Rescue officials will distribute educational materials at hotels, the airport and other places tourists gather as part of a campaign detailing ways to control the spread of the flu.

"We want them to know we're aware of this issue," he said.

Schoen said the group also discussed the upcoming Allen & Co. conference, which brings hundreds of business moguls from the media, technology, computer and entertainment industries and their families to Sun Valley each summer. This year's conference is set for early July.

During the conference, officials will distribute educational information about the H1N1 flu to participants, Schoen said.

Unless the status of the flu changes significantly in the coming weeks and months and warrants a quicker response, the county's emergency planning committee will meet again in September to discuss the coming fall flu season.

According to Cheryle Becker, epidemiology manager for Idaho's South Central Public Health District, based in Twin Falls, the two confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu in Blaine County have been reported within the past week. She said neither patients required hospitalization.

Symptoms of H1N1 infection are similar to seasonal flu, a news release from the health district states. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue. Some people have also reported diarrhea and vomiting.

Influenza is thought to spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by infected people. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult a health care provider for testing, health officials advised.

Jason Kauffman:

Protect yourself from the flu

According to the South Central Public Health District, the best ways to protect oneself from the H1N1 "swine" flu is to:

· Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

· Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

· Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread that way.

· Stay home from work or school if you get sick. Limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

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