With no swine flu cases yet reported in Oregon and Washington, health officials are stepping up education and preparedness efforts in advance of its spread.
The issue is of particular concern as both states face budget cuts that in Washington have already resulted in mandatory county employee furlough days – including within the health department.
So far as of 10 a.m. today, seven confirmed cases have been reported in California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 28 cases in New York City, two cases in Texas, two in Kansas and one in Ohio.
"With health officials around the world mobilizing to investigate and control this new type of swine influenza, we need to know what can and is being done to monitor for the disease and prepare for any response that may be needed," said King County Council Chair Dow Constantine in Seattle, who contacted Public Health officials on Sunday.
"In this era of global travel and the rapid spread of emerging diseases, we must be vigilant about protecting public health," said Councilmember Julia Patterson, chair of the King County Board of Health.
King County public heath director Dr. David Fleming, and Dr. Jeff Duchin, disease control officer for Communicable Disease, laid out a plan of heightened local monitoring; planning and coordination with health care, government, private sector and community-based partners; and measures residents can take to protect themselves and their community.
Officials in Oregon note that the flu season is almost over, but they're asking health care providers to test any patients who have influenza-like illness, particularly if they have recently traveled to Southern California, Texas, or Mexico.
They're also working with medical laboratories to re-test recent flu samples to find out if swine flu has already stricken victims within the state's borders, and expanded the access to flu samples for clinicians working with public health people with symptoms that suggest influenza.
"We haven't had any cases here in Oregon but if this really starts to take off and if we really do have a problem here, we've been preparing for this for some time, so I think we're ready to go if we need to do that -- but we're a ways from that," he said today.
In Oregon and Washington, budget cuts on the table for public health are significant, and could very easily hurt any efforts to address future emergencies such as a flu pandemic, according to Kohn.
"The public health department is the first line of defense for these kinds of emergencies and we don't know yet what the final budget is going to look like," he said. "The legislature has asked all state agencies to submit a 30 percent cut list, because they are going to have to make some decisions, whether about raising revenue in one way or another or about making cuts in order to balance the budget so they wanted a full menu of options.
"With cuts at that kind of level for public health it would have a very serious effect on our ability to manage these kinds of problems," Kohn said.
Oregon Public Health Director Dr. Mel Kohn is promoting "three important steps" to stop any flu's spread:
1. Protect yourself and others by washing your hands often;
2. Cover your mouth with something other than your hand when you cough,
3. If you are sick, go see your doctor but otherwise try not to go out and expose others to your illness.
He says illness caused by this new strain of flu has the same symptoms as illness caused by other strains of flu including fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, and can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
"When outbreaks happen it can cause anxiety," Kohn says. "The antidote for that is good information – and good public health practice. As we get more information about this new strain of flu we will be working with our partners across the country and at the Centers for Disease Control to address this issue."
Oregon officials say swine influenza is a respiratory illness related to seasonal influenza, most commonly seen in pigs, with human infections relatively rare.
The most common route of exposure for humans is through contact with pigs, however according to the CDC none of the ill people are known to have had such contact or link to people who do.
Those who had swine flu in the U.S. thus far have experienced mild illness, and have recovered. US hospitals have not reported an increase in serious respiratory illness. All cases were detected through routine surveillance for seasonal influenza.
Health officials say you do not have to have physical contact with pigs to get infected, and you do not get swine flu from eating pork or pork products. Regular flu vaccines do not generally protect against swine flu
For more information, you can visit the following CDC website about swine flu infections in people. It will be updated daily: www.cdc.gov/flu/swine/investigation.htm