LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Preparation, not panic - that's the message that U.S. health officials want to get across to folks across the country, on edge about a swine flu outbreak.
With over 150 people dead in Mexico and the number of confirmed swine flu cases in the U.S. on the rise, health officials are taking swift action to minimize the effects of this virus. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says, "Everybody is getting prepared, everybody is leaning forward, everybody's dusting off their pandemic flu preparation plans in case this is in fact a major pandemic."
In Southwest Louisiana, routine pandemic flu drills in recent years have readied medical personnel for a potential "real" situation. Dr. B.J. Foch is the Medical Director for the Office of Public Health in Calcasieu Parish. He says before a virus reaches "pandemic status," there is a set of criteria that must first be met. "This would have to be a new virus that has not occurred in humans, second thing is it has to be a serious illness - which it very well may be a serious illness based on the number of deaths in Mexico and the third thing, it has to be easily passed from person to person worldwide," says Foch.
While there have been confirmed cases of swine flu in a handful of countries so far, Mexico is the only country that has reported a significant number of people sickened by the virus. Dr. Foch says the best weapon our region has against swine flu is a surveillance system across the state with physicians updating what they are seeing with patients through a "health alert network."
"We also activated our disease-tracking system with sentinel physicians offices throughout Louisiana," says Dr. Foch, "there's 35 of those physicians and they are sort of our eyes on the ground doing the testing for this virus."
In a news conference, Governor Bobby Jindal said if these sentinel physicians treat any patients with swine flu, further action will be taken to safeguard the impacted area. "We're also tracking hospital admissions at select hospitals across the state," says Jindal, "we're working with the Louisiana Hospital Association and Louisiana pharmacies to access the availability of the anti-flu drug as well as their capacity in terms of in patient capacity."
The federal government says it is going to move 12 million doses of the flu-fighting drug Tamiflu out of a federal stockpile to where it can be quickly obtained by states that need it in the face of the spread of swine flu.