Minnesota sent an additional seven samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the weekend to be tested for a novel strain of H1N1 influenza, commonly called “swine flu.” The results of those tests and a sample sent Friday are expected Monday. The state currently does not have the ability to confirm the H1N1 virus in-state, but officials hope to have the lab tests available sometime this week. Three of the probable cases come from people in Hennepin County, and one each from Dakota, Wright, Polk and Scott Counties. Like the previously confirmed case in Stearns County, none of the individuals required hospitalization and are expected to recover. Officials report most cases so far within the United States are showing mild symptoms, similar to seasonal influenza.
The Minnesota Department of Health has already tested 350 samples but believes there will be more cases in-state.
The University of Minnesota has not taken any additional measures beyond canceling study abroad programs to Mexico late last Monday, but an e-mail went out to deans and commencement planners Friday regarding handshaking at commencement ceremonies. Assistant Vice President for Public Health John R. Finnegan said the decision would be left to commencement organizers and offered suggestions for how to handle the decision, such as informing the audience at the beginning of the ceremony or offering students their diploma with two hands. University officials are continuing to monitor the state’s probable cases and will inform students of any changes or updates to the emergency pandemic plan, school spokesman Daniel Wolter said in an e-mail Sunday.
BY THE NUMBERS
787: confirmed cases of the virus worldwide
20: deaths, 19 in Mexico and one death of a Mexican citizen visiting the United States
226: confirmed cases in 30 states in the United States
5: the current World Health Organization influenza pandemic alert phase
25 percent: the amount of the National Strategic Stockpile of supplies and medicines deployed to states on May 3. This includes antiviral medications, Tamiflu and Relenza, which the H1N1 virus has shown susceptibility to.
8: probable cases of H1N1 in Minnesota, currently being tested by the CDC. One case was confirmed Thursday morning. Of the probable cases, three are from Hennepin County.
36,000: deaths each year from seasonal influenza.
FACT vs. FICTION
FICTION: “Swine flu” is a virus people contract from pigs.
FACT: “Swine flu,” as the disease is commonly referred to, is a misnomer. Genetically, the current strain of H1N1 contains components of swine flu, avian flu and human flu viruses. Health officials shifted their official terminology of the virus after outcry from the pork industry over the term “swine flu.” The WHO has adopted the term “influenza A(H1N1),” the CDC uses “H1N1 flu” and the Minnesota Department of Health calls it “H1N1 novel influenza.”
FICTION: The disease can be spread through pork products.
FACT: The disease is currently only being spread person-to-person, through close contact (defined as three to six feet) with an ill person. Many of the cases currently have ties to travel to Mexico within the last seven to 10 days. Many countries around the world have mistakenly taken drastic measures against pork products, including halting imports on pork products and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of farm pigs, leading the term “swine flu” to be avoided by officials.
FICTION: Air travel is unsafe and should be avoided.
FACT: Currently, the CDC does not recommend against domestic travel for people who are healthy. On April 27, the CDC recommended all “non-essential” travel to Mexico be suspended or avoided. In response, the University canceled all current and May term/summer session learning abroad programs in Mexico. The WHO has not recommended restriction of travel but advises people who are ill against international travel and for people feeling ill within a week after international travel to contact a physician. “We’re asking for self-awareness,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in a Thursday Q&A webcast. “If you’re sick and you’re coming down with the flu, don’t get on the plane.”
FICTION: This is the same virus as the 1918 Spanish Influenza
FACT: The H1N1 is a scientific designator, according to Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, but the diseases are genetically very different. The current strain of H1N1 is a novel virus not seen before.
FICTION: Closing the U.S.-Mexico border is necessary to halt the spread of H1N1 in the United States.
FACT: In the Thursday webcast, Napolitano said there is no scientific or epidemiological evidence that closing the borders will halt the spread of the H1N1 virus. She repeated President Barack Obama’s example of “closing the barn door after the horse is already out of the barn.” At a previous news conference, Dr. Besser said, “intensive efforts at the border are not an effective mechanism in prevention introduction of an infectious disease.”
WHAT WILL A PANDEMIC IN SOCIETY LOOK LIKE?
Aaron Desmond, director of licensing and new business development for the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said beyond the impact of the influenza disease itself, there are other considerations to be taken, such as the effect the pandemic may have on supply chains throughout the country, including pharmaceuticals, electricity and food.
Even if the disease is not extremely severe, interruptions in the supply chain may still be felt, he said. If large numbers of people are simply too ill to come to work and if people are very alarmed by the idea of the pandemic, leading to policy changes such as border closures, society will feel the impact.
Many jobs along the supply lines, such as train drivers to transport coal for energy, are “positions that aren’t easily filled,” he said, because of their specific job functions. If those people become ill, there may not be reinforcements to continue the supply chain.
“Because we’ve figured out ways to become more efficient, that also cuts buffer out of the supply chain,” he said of areas such as everyday prescription drug and food production. “We’re potentially vulnerable in terms of how an influenza pandemic could affect us.”
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
HHS, CDC and WHO officials have consistently reminded individuals that they have a responsibility during a global pandemic. Here’s what you can do to play your part:
• Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Dr. Besser of the CDC reminded people Thursday of what we teach small children: Sing “Happy Birthday to You” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and wash your hands with soap and water the entire time. Besser also advocates frequent use of alcohol-based antibacterial gels in the absence of soap and water.
• Other basic hygiene such as covering coughs and sneezes and trying to stay healthy by getting enough rest and eating well.
• If you’re ill, stay home and away from crowded areas. Sebelius said parents should have a contingency plan for if their child is sent home from school, and the school closes for up to 14 days. “That doesn’t mean send your kids to the mall,” she said Thursday. In Obama’s weekly video address to the nation, he urged employers to allow employees to take sick days as needed.
• Plan ahead with family and friends about communication and contingency measures. Ensure access to necessary daily medical supplies, water, food, important documents, etc. Some officials are recommending up to a two-week supply of basic necessities.
• Stay informed. Local and federal health officials are experimenting with social networking measures to get up-to-date information out to people using avenues such as Twitter, RSS Feeds, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.
On the web: http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/
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