Oklahoma health officials urge awareness of H1N1 flu

Marsha Miller

Health officials in Oklahoma say there is no reason for residents to panic about the H1N1 flu, although hospitals and health departments are taking it precau.

“It is not a time for panic; it is a time to become informed,” Mendy Spohn, Carter County Health Department Administrator, said Friday.

Spohn said county health departments, along with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, are taking the H1N1 flu “very seriously.” She urged citizens to do the same.

“This (flu) is a new strain to humans,” Spohn said. “Personal precautions are very important when it comes to this type of infectious disease.”

So far most cases in the U.S. have been mild. Most people infected with H1N1 have been able to care for themselves at home. As of Saturday, no cases had been confirmed in Oklahoma. However, cases have been reported in Texas and Kansas, leading health officials to anticipate the virus will strike Oklahoma.

“One thing we know about the flu is that it’s always unpredictable. But it would be unusual if we didn’t have any cases here,” said Leslea Bennett-Webb, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Health Department. “It appears it will be pretty widespread. It’s moving rapidly worldwide.”

And the rapid worldwide spread is why Spohn is reminding area residents that preparedness and preventive measures are key in combating the upswing of H1N1.

On Friday, state health officials urged the public to stock up on food, water and “necessities” like infant formula, toilet paper and detergent. Citizens should also have at least a two-week supply of their prescription drugs as well as over-the-counter preparations like pain relievers and cold medications. Although it is unlikely these types of measures will be necessary, officials say it is better to be safe than sorry.

“These are the kinds of preparedness measures everyone should have on hand regardless, because they are useful in a variety of emergency situations, like bad weather,” Spohn said.

In addition to the recommendations to have extra food, water and medications on hand, Spohn said the state health department is providing a wide range of public information, tips and resources via the Internet at www.health.ok.gov and a toll free hot line at (866) 278-7134.

And while H1N1 has not currently reached Oklahoma, Spohn said the precautionary and prevention measurers residents are being advised to take are not simply a blown out of proportion “cry wolf”  strategy geared to strike fear in the hearts of the public. H1N1 has the potential to surge with possible deadly force.

“While a pandemic is sobering to think about, it should be noted that we are not helpless. We do have antiviral medications and social distancing practices that help reduce the effects of this form of influenza. ”Spohn said. “However, the flu shot people took to prevent seasonal flu is not effective against H1N1.”

Spohn confirmed the virus is infectious at least one day before symptoms occur and remain contagious up 7 days after symptoms develop –– in some cases even longer. She said children, especially young children, could potentially be contagious for longer periods.

“It is important for sick people to stay home. Some people confuse other illnesses with flu. High fever, body aches, fatigue, sore throat and coughing are the major symptoms of flu. It is important to note that the regular, seasonal flu is still going around. Remember, the new H1N1 flu virus is tied to travel to Mexico or other outbreak areas or close contact to someone who has traveled to that area. If you haven’t traveled or had close contact to someone who did it is unlikely at this time you would be exposed to the new H1N1 virus.”

What are health departments doing to prepare?

Friday Spohn began holding a series of action step meetings. The first meeting was with area medical professionals.

“Locally, the health departments are meeting with different sectors of the community to make sure communication flow is occurring and that we are all on the same page,” she said, adding this week, “ I plan to make contact with church organizations and local emergency responders to answer questions and provide current updates.”

Contact Daily Ardmoreite writer Marsha Miller atmarsha.miller@ardmoreite.com