Bangor’s response to flu outbreak centers on consistent message

Posted April 30, 2009, at 9:41 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — As national concern increases over an outbreak of the H1N1 virus known as swine flu, local leaders stressed two goals Thursday: work closely together and speak with a consistent message.

Shawn Yardley, director of Bangor’s Department of Health and Welfare, gathered numerous city leaders to City Hall on Thursday morning to outline what steps Bangor has taken and will continue to take.

“We hope we’re giving information that people have heard before,” he said, referring to routine tips such as washing hands and staying home when symptoms arise. “There is a lot of planning in preparation for events like this, and we all have roles to play.”

Nelson Durgin, a member of the city’s public health advisory board, said it’s important for the public not to panic but to understand that “this is not a casual exercise.” Somewhat ominously, it was announced shortly after the city’s press conference that a case of swine flu was reported in Penobscot County, the fifth so far in Maine.

Yardley said schools are a particularly sensitive area for potential spreading of any virus and, as such, Superintendent Betsy Webb and others have begun a review of plans and protocol.

“We’re prepared,” Webb said assuredly. “A lot of what we do is communicate quickly with teachers and parents, everyone involved.”

Val Sauda with the Eastern Area Agency on Aging said Bangor’s considerable elderly population should pay close attention to their caregivers, many of whom have multiple patients or clients.

“Don’t be afraid to tell them to wash their hands,” she said.

Bangor’s Department of Health and Welfare administers various types of public housing, as well as the Women, Infant and Children program, or WIC, and many come to City Hall regularly for those programs. Yardley said educating people daily will be crucial, but he also encouraged people to pay attention to the news because things are changing frequently.

Asked whether the city has faced a similar threat in recent years, Yardley referred to the avian flu scare a few years ago. He worried that because that virus didn’t materialize the way some thought it would, the public might be inclined to not take swine flu seriously.

“This is different,” Yardley said.

The Rev. Bob Carlson, president of Penobscot Community Health Care, said he doesn’t think everyone with a minor cough or temperature needs to rush to the emergency room.

“Identifying symptoms is the first step people need to take,” he said. “But it’s good to ask questions, too.”

erussell@bangordailynews.net

990-8167

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