Opinion

‘Swine flu’ — the more you know...

by Gary M. Goldbaum, MD, MPH

Thank you, dear readers, for your calm response to the presence of a new strain of influenza virus in our community. Compared to the severe illness present in Mexico, the version of A/H1N1 circulating in our state brings comparatively mild symptoms of cough, fever and body aches.

Nicknamed “swine flu,” this virus appears so far to behave much like the “routine” flu virus that makes the rounds here in winter, person-to-person. However, it could change — which is why local public health is keeping all its eyes open, monitoring the local outbreak and watching the national and international pictures.

Your local public health agency, Snohomish Health District, is keeping you informed at every step of the way on our Web site, through media releases and interviews, and by means of a telephone call center that operates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily: 425 388 5060. You also can e-mail us your flu questions to flu@snoco.org. Stay tuned for more communication enhancements, such as Facebook and twitter capacity. This “new media” support comes to us courtesy of Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, and we are appreciative of the assist in getting the word ­— and twitters — out to all of you in the community.

Be assured that I am also in very close contact with our community partners, offering guidance and policy to health care providers, hospital facilities, school districts, and elected officials — both in response to the current illnesses, as well as in preparation for any changes that lie ahead.

Looking forward a bit, we await the arrival of antiviral medications from the Strategic National Stockpile. These antivirals are used for the treatment — not prevention — of influenza. They will be available by prescription, and dispensed on the advice of a health care provider for people who are sick. If it looks as if we need more, we can get more.

Research laboratories already are trying to develop a vaccine that will prevent this strain of flu, or at least diminish its severity. That takes months to produce — but it still is a note of progress.

You know the by-now familiar precautions — please instill them in your children: Cover your cough, wash your hands. If you are sick, stay home. Keep sick children home from school, child care, or other gatherings. Stay home for seven days after symptoms start or until you are completely well for a full day, whichever is longer. If your child is still sick after seven days, keep your child at home until completely well for 24 hours.

Thank you once again for staying grounded and informed.

Gary M. Goldbaum, MD, MPH is the Health Officer & Director of the Snohomish Health District.

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