Swine Flu strikes Bullitt County

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Staff member at Bullitt Central contracts illness

By Mallory Bilger

MOUNT WASHINGTON - There’s hardly anywhere you can go without hearing about it. The H1N1 influenza ee" commonly referenced as the Swine Flu ee" has arrived in Bullitt County according to school officials and the county health department.

But that’s no surprise to doctors and health educators in the area. The Center for Disease Control has predicted since the spring that more cases, hospitalizations and deaths associated with the H1N1 virus would be reported in the United States throughout the summer, fall and winter months.

“There are H1N1 cases. Because it’s mild to moderate symptoms, some folks are not going to their doctors,” Bullitt County Health Department Nursing Administrator Andrea Renfrow explained.

She said it was impossible to identify all of Bullitt County’s H1N1 cases thus far because many people don’t seek a doctor’s care.

The CDC does predict an increase in H1N1 infections as the year progresses and that almost certainly means increased cases in Bullitt County. But there are many precautionary measures that can be taken to reduce the virus’ spread.

Both the county and schools claim they are working to inform and prepare the community for H1N1 without causing widespread and unnecessary panic.

How the county, its medical system, schools and resources will fare through the first predicted full season of H1N1 has yet to be fully seen.

- What exactly is H1N1 and how do I know if I have it?

According to the CDC, H1N1 has been identified as a new strain of flu that incorporates genes from human, swine and avian-type flues.

In June the CDC declared an H1N1 pandemic, based not upon the severity of the influenza, but on how fast it was spreading. H1N1 is now worldwide with new cases being reported daily.

The first publicized cases believe to have been identified in Mexico in early 2009, with cases in United States following shortly after that. Although pig farmers and those who work closely with swine often have reported animal-to-human transmission of flu, H1N1 was unique because it seemed to travel very easily from human to human. There has been a recent push to stop referencing H1N1 as Swine Flu because it is an inaccurate term.

Symptoms, although some vary, are much like the regular flu strains that circulate throughout the fall and winter. They include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some infected with the virus have also reported diarrhea and vomiting.

Perhaps one of the most mysterious characteristics of H1N1 is that it tends to adversely affect the a population that is historically the healthiest. “The information analyzed by CDC supports the conclusion that novel H1N1 flu has caused greater disease burden in people younger than 25 years of age than older people,” according to the CDC’s Web site.

Groups are at particular risk for complications from the H1N1 virus include those with asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnant women.

Bullitt County Health Department Director Swannie Jett and Renfrow agreed that although the potential spread of H1N1 needs to be taken very seriously, residents need not panic nor avoid daily activities unless advised by medical personnel or county officials to do so.

Tips to preventing H1N1’s spread:

* Wash hands with warm soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the restroom, touching your face, before and after meals, etc.

* Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available

* Sneeze and cough into a paper tissue or the bend of the elbow. Used tissues should be discarded immediately and people should wash their hands after those episodes.

* Do not share toothbrushes, utensils or drinks.

* Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched, but excessive cleaning is not currently advised.

* Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

* Stay home and seek medical advice if you believe you are experiencing H1N1 symptoms. A person diagnosed with H1N1 should not return to any social setting accept to seek medical treatment until he or she has gone fever-free for at least 24 hours.

- A Look at H1N1 in Bullitt County

Renfrow predicted many of the county’s H1N1 cases thus far have went undetected because not all patients seek a doctor’s care when sick.

“I am sure there are cases (in Bullitt County),” Renfrow said. “But as far as us receiving notification of any (more) confirmed reports we aren’t right now.”

As of Thursday, the only case the health department was aware of involved a Bullitt Central High School staff member.

Renfrow said that under the state’s direction, the county isn’t attempting to count each H1N1 case because the flu is expected to be widespread. She said the department is in close contact with doctor’s offices and the schools to determine if cases are increasing in the area and added the state would ultimately determine the flu’s activity level in the region.

“The levels of activity are identified at a statewide level using a statewide surveillance. Currently Kentucky is at a regional level of activity,” she said.

Renfrow and Jett agreed they haven’t received any reports thus far of area doctor’s offices, immediate care centers or hospitals being overwhelmed by patients believing they are infected with H1N1.

Jett said the county would adhere to a CDC-formulated response plan if a serious outbreak occurred.

That plan includes health and local officials encouraging anyone with a fever not to leave his or her home until 24 hours after it subsides. Judge/Executive Melanie Roberts would instruct residents to avoid large gatherings to prevent the spread of the flu and the health department would work with Bullitt County Public Schools Superintendent Keith Davis on if schools should be closed for a time period.

Both Renfrow and Jett agreed the situation would have to be reassessed regularly to determine what actions should be taken.

At this time, the CDC is encouraging good hygiene practices but not suggesting that people avoid public places.

Jett added that, unfortunately, the county health department is not equipped to treat H1N1 patients without insurance. He said anyone experiencing H1N1 symptoms should seek treatment at a local emergency room.

- H1N1 in Bullitt County Schools

As reported last week, the Bullitt County School system confirmed its first case of H1N1 in a Bullitt Central High staff member.

Neither Davis nor District Health Coordinator Lesa Bodine were surprised by this announcement. Davis said in an e-mail that parents should be prepared for H1N1 to be reported in all of the county’s schools.

Davis said Thursday in an e-mail to The Pioneer News that there are no plans to close Bullitt Central or any other Bullitt County school that reports H1N1 unless absences become very high or the CDC and local health department encourages such action.

“We are following CDC guidance regarding this flu. If attendance is so low as to make it counterproductive for student learning, then we would consider options,” Davis wrote.

Davis felt that parents needed to make preparations to prevent H1N1’s spread, because it probably is going to be widespread this fall and winter. “I don’t know about how we will report additional cases. What parents need to know is that it could be in every school, and church, and grocery, etc. and take appropriate action to avoid spreading the virus,” he wrote.

Bodine said at this time the school’s response has been to equip individual schools and their staff with information on how to prevent the flu’s spread. She said teachers have been encouraged to review good hand washing skills with their students, as well as keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers available when hand washing isn’t possible.

Bodine went on to say that if the number of cases continued to increase in the schools, parents would need to prepare for properly handling a sick child. She said parents also needed to consider a back-up childcare plan if the situation becomes so serious that their child’s school was forced to close temporarily.

Parents, children, educators and the community all have to play a role in reducing the number of H1N1 cases in the schools this fall, Bodine said. She said parents need to be in tune with their child’s health and shouldn’t hesitate to seek medical attention. She added that parents can help teach small children to sing Happy Birthday twice while washing their hands, which equals about the 20-second period recommended by the CDC.

Bodine said in her time at Bullitt County Schools she couldn’t remember a virus getting so much media or national attention. She said parents should be cautious about H1N1, but shouldn’t hold healthy children home from school because of fear.

“We don’t want everyone staying at home,” she said.