Maine officials working to minimize swine flu impact

Posted April 27, 2009, at 1:01 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine – Swine flu has not yet been identified in Maine, but the state’s top public health official says it is just a matter of time.

“We won’t be able to prevent it from coming here,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, speaking to health care providers on Monday. “The genie is out of the bottle.”

The Maine CDC’s goal, she said, is to minimize the impact of swine flu in Maine.

The viral illness, which first was identified in Mexico late last week, now has spread to several countries including Canada. In Mexico, at least 149 deaths had been attributed to swine flu as of early Monday afternoon. In the U.S. and other countries, the illness generally has been less severe, but Mills said the severity is expected to worsen. The spreading outbreak prompted the United States to declare a national public health emergency on Sunday.

Like other forms of influenza, swine flu is spread through respiratory droplets released when infected people cough or sneeze. Symptoms include fever, respiratory congestion, headache and fatigue. Individuals who recently have traveled to Mexico, or who have come in contact with others who have traveled to Mexico, are at the greatest risk of contracting the illness.

Mills said the state has a well-developed plan to respond to a global outbreak of deadly influenza, an event that international public health officials have predicted for many years. Although the worsening swine flu outbreak may not become a full-blown pandemic, the Maine CDC has implemented an incident command system to help manage the event, is expanding the ability to test respiratory specimens, and is offering day-to-day updates on the outbreak to hospitals, doctors and other health care providers.

The federal emergency designation will release antiviral medicines, gloves, surgical masks and other supplies to all states from a national emergency stockpile, Mills said. The supplies are expected to arrive in Maine this week and will be distributed to Maine’s 39 community hospitals.

Washing hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying away from others when ill are effective steps in avoiding and controlling the spread of all forms of influenza, Mills said.

On the Web: www.mainepublichealth.gov

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