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Local agencies make plans for possible H1N1 flu outbreak
The image above is of the newly identified H1N1 influenza virus taken in the CDC Influenza Laboratory. - photo by Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control

What Can You Do?

• Wash hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
• Stay home if you have influenza symptoms. If you have the flu, stay home at least seven days after the symptoms began. Do not go back to work or school with a fever.
• Cover your coughs and sneezes.
• Seek medical care for severe respiratory symptoms such as difficulty breathing or for dehydration.
• Keep your distance from people who are coughing.
• Avoid sharing personal items.
• Eat well, be active and don’t smoke.
Information from the California Department of Public Health

As the flu season approaches local agencies from hospitals and health centers to schools and public safety departments are bracing themselves for a possible onslaught of new H1N1 cases by putting into place plans that could help prevent a widespread outbreak of the virus in Turlock.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expecting a significant increase in the number of H1N1 cases, more commonly known as swine flu, during the traditional flu season starting in late September, early October. Scientists are currently testing a vaccine and hope to have one available by late fall or early winter. Until then, health agencies across the country are trumpeting messages of heightened awareness when it comes to the virus.
“We are proceeding with the highest level of precautions,” said Stephanie Lambert, the Infection Control coordinator for Emanuel Medical Center. “We need to keep people at high alert.”
Lambert said Emanuel Medical Center is taking extra steps to keep the virus from spreading through its corridors. Emanuel Medical Center has set up Respiratory Hygiene stations throughout the hospital, equipped with gloves and surgical masks.
Additionally, the hospital is actively isolating people with flu symptoms and putting them on a course of treatment prescribed for H1N1.
“We are proceeding on the presumption that it is the H1N1 virus, because that is the safest thing for the patient,” Lambert said.
Emanuel Medical Center has not had any positive results for H1N1 as of yet, Lambert said.
The symptoms of H1N1 Influenza in humans are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have also reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with H1N1. Anyone coming down with flu-like symptoms is advised to stay home, get plenty of rest and not return to work or school until they have been free of a fever for 24 hours.
Most people who have come down with the virus make a full recovery, but for some the virus is deadly. As of Thursday, the CDC had confirmed that in the United States there have been 7,983 people hospitalized with H1N1 and 522 people have died of the virus. There have been two confirmed deaths from H1N1 in Stanislaus County and one in Merced County since the virus first appeared in April.
The groups that the virus seems to be the most deadly for include pregnant women, those between the ages of 6 months to 24 years old, and those 25 to 64 years old with chronic health problems.
To help prevent a widespread outbreak, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued guidelines for schools and workplaces to deal with the virus. The main message — if you’re sick, stay home.
“We’re sending out letters to our parents with the message that if their child is sick, they need to keep them at home,” said Gil Ogden, the director of student services for the Turlock Unified School District. “We have heightened precautions across the District,” Ogden said.
Ogden said schools will immediately isolate students and/or faculty that are showing flu symptoms. They will be sent home and won’t be allowed to return to class until they have been screened by a school nurse.
The District will also be tracking attendance at a higher level than before to identify any spikes in absences that may indicate the presence of the virus.
California State University, Stanislaus is also setting up guidelines to deal with a possible outbreak. The campus has formed a pandemic team to gather all the information and recommendations about H1N1 and is charting a course of action that will be in place before the start of the semester, said university spokesperson Kristin Olsen.
In an effort to keep the virus from spreading through the dorms, the university is keeping two empty apartments available in case they need to isolate students who become ill.
The Student Health Center is also recommending each resident prepare a care kit of items to help them if they get the flu and they have made arrangements with Campus Dining to be able to provide food to students who are ill in their rooms to minimize the spread of germs.
The campus will have a supply of masks and hand sanitizers available, Olsen said.
As one of the first responders to emergencies, especially medical calls, public safety personnel, like fire fighters and emergency medical technicians are taking extra precautions to protect themselves from coming down with the virus.
“It is very much on our radar screen,” said Turlock Fire Division Chief Tim Lohman. “We are taking proactive steps to keep our personnel safe.”
Some of those steps include keeping everyone aware of the latest news regarding H1N1 and spreading the word about good hygiene.
“It appears that the virus spreads more through contact, so it’s vitally important that we encourage good hygiene among the public,” Lohman said.
Perhaps fortuitously, the Turlock Fire Department was one of the agencies to participate in a flu pandemic drill held in Stanislaus County weeks before the H1N1 virus appeared in the United States.
“It was a great practice for what might lay ahead,” Lohman said.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.