“The public health community has been anticipating a worldwide pandemic for many years,” said Carol Paxton, Director of Public Health Emergency Preparedness for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “Locally, we’ve developed a plan with our community partners, tested it, and made improvements over the years. We are in close contact with federal and state authorities on a daily basis and we are as ready as we can possibly be.”
Paxton said events over the next several days or weeks will tell if we are in the early stages of a pandemic. “We rely on the World Health Organization to define pandemics,” she said, noting that WHO raised worldwide pandemic alert to Phase 4. Phase 4 is characterized by verified human-to-human transmission of a new influenza virus to which humans have not previously been widely exposed and which cause community-level outbreaks.
With guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) & Prevention and Michigan Department of Community Health, the local Health Department has provided guidance to physicians, schools, and the general community.
“We’re working with local physicians so laboratory tests for their patients with flu-like symptoms can be expedited, with schools to make sure communicable disease reporting is accurate, and with community residents to encourage them to use good health habits.”
Community-level social distancing efforts slow the spread of disease and are an important strategy against communicable disease outbreaks, including Swine Flu. Paxton said the CDC is now recommending schools, businesses and families think about what actions they will need to take if the current Swine Flu grows to pandemic, which will require measures like school closures and cancelling events like church services and athletic events to prevent the spread of the disease.
Although a vaccine is not currently available, anti-viral drugs are effective in treating Swine Flu, if patients take them early in their illness.
Influenza is a serious disease, said Joshua Meyerson, MD, Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “Every year, about 36,000 people die in the U.S. from flu symptoms.”
Based on the rapid spread of the virus so far, public health authorities anticipate more cases will be identified over the coming weeks. “As we look harder for cases, we are likely to continue to see more cases, more hospitalizations, and probably we will see deaths from this outbreak,” Meyerson said.There are everyday actions we can all take to help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza:
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. If you have questions about Swine Flu, the visit www.cdc.gov/swineflu.