Public health officials responding to swine flu threat
State and local public health officials are taking aggressive steps in response to the unusual strain of swine influenza that has been making people ill in Mexico and parts of the U.S.
Since last Thursday, officials at the Minnesota Department of Health have been asking hospitals and physicians to submit specimens for testing if they have any patients with the kind of respiratory symptoms that typically characterize influenza.
Health care providers are also being advised to contact MDH if they have patients with flu-like symptoms who have been to Mexico or to parts of the U.S. with confirmed cases of the unusual swine flu strain - or patients who have had contact with sick people who had been to one of the areas with confirmed cases of the illness.
So far, no confirmed or probable cases of the illness have been detected in Minnesota as a result of the testing effort. Twelve specimens have been tested thus far and all were negative for swine flu. However, health officials emphasize that they are concerned about this new strain of swine flu.
"Like other state and local health departments across the country, we are taking the emergence of this unusual flu strain very seriously, and we are working very closely with national and local partners to characterize this outbreak," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, Minnesota State Epidemiologist. "Thus far, all of the cases reported in the U.S. have been mild. We will continue to monitor the situation closely."
"MDH and local health departments in the state have been preparing for major public health threats for years," Dr. Lynfield added. "We are ready to respond."
MDH officials are reminding people to observe routine public health recommendations for preventing the spread of the flu:
Stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
Wash your hands often to protect yourself from germs.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
Practice other good health habits. Keep yourself strong - and more resistant to disease - by getting plenty of sleep, staying physically active, managing stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food.
MDH will continue to work with physicians and hospitals to test patients for possible swine flu, Lynfield said. Testing by CDC is the necessary final step in confirming an infection with the unusual flu strain, she emphasized.
Nationwide in the U.S., 20 cases of the new swine flu strain have been confirmed so far - seven in California, eight in New York, two in Texas, two in Kansas, and one in Ohio. Eighteen cases of swine flu have been laboratory confirmed in Mexico, which has been experiencing widespread and often severe influenza-like illness. Twelve of the Mexican cases have been identified as the new swine flu strain.