Health officials: Take basic precautions to avoid swine flu

By Argen Duncan and Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico

Local health officials are keeping an eye out for swine flu, but aren’t advising any precautions other than basic health tips.

After a recent outbreak in Mexico, swine flu has also been confirmed in the United States, Canada, Scotland and Spain, but not in New Mexico. The disease is suspected of killing almost 150 people, all in Mexico, but seems less severe in the United States.

“I don’t think we should be concerned at this point,” said state Department of Health Dr. Winona Stoltzfus, who works in the region covering Roosevelt and Curry counties.

Stoltzfus said the department would alert the public if any swine flu cases were discovered.

“The main action we’re taking now is heightened surveillance,” she said.

Stoltzfus said the most important things people can do are basic health precations: washing their hands frequently, covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough and, if they experience flu-like symptoms, staying home except to go to the doctor for diagnosis.

Dr. Chad Smelser, a state medical epidemiologist, advised anyone with flu-like symptoms to call their doctor or health clinic before coming in to avoid passing anything on to other patients.

There is no vaccine for this specific strain of flu, but antiviral medicine seems to help.

Symptoms are similar to the seasonal flu: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people experience diaherra and vomiting.

Presbyterian Health Care, which owns Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis, is working closely with the New Mexico Department of Health and following its direction, spokeswoman Elizabeth Brophy said Monday.

“It’s just (a matter of being) aware of the issue. We’re aware, we know it’s happening, but what’s comforting is there are no confirmed cases in New Mexico,” she said.

Roosevelt General Hospital staff members in Portales are sending cultures from patients with flu-like symptoms to the state to be tested, as well as doing less specific testing in-house.

“We’re always taking precautions because we’re just coming out of flu season,” said Infection control nurse Tersa Bonifant.

Staff members wash their hands often and ask patients with relevant symptoms to wear masks over their noses and mouths, she said.

New Mexico has been planning for a potential pandemic flu outbreak for years, so the state is ready if swine flu arrives, health officials said.

Freedom New Mexico staff writer Sharna Johnson and the Associated Press contributed to this story.