Health News

Manatee officials stepping up their prevention efforts

MANATEE — As the number of confirmed human swine flu cases in the United States rose to 64 Tuesday, local organizations whose work involves large populations of people began taking actions should an outbreak occur here.

People who eat at the Salvation Army now have to wash their hands before entering the dining room, Major Robert Pfeiffer announced Tuesday.

“We have hand sanitizers at the door of the dining room and we are doing everything we can to make sure people use them before entering the building,” he said. “We are taking preliminary precautions at this point. If we identify anyone who is sick, we refer them on to a clinic.”

If someone is diagnosed with the flu, they would have to be confined, said Pfeiffer.

“We would be taking a great risk, if we knew someone was a swine flu victim and we let then into the shelter,” he said. “We would be endangering others. I can’t imagine they would be allowed to go out into the community.”

But where they would be taken is not determined. Ron Cox, the director of disease control for the Manatee County Health Department, said state health officials have not yet addressed what would happen to transients who came down with swine flu.

As of Tuesday night, no confirmed cases had yet been reported in Florida, although rumors of a case was identified in Orlando.

Health officials are looking at more than symptoms in identifying possible cases of swine flu, said Cox.

Other indicators include contact with a confirmed case or recent travel to Mexico, where this strain of swine flu is thought to have originated, Cox said. Other factors might include recent travel to San Diego or Imperial County in California.

Anyone with suspicious symptoms, contacts or travel patterns would be tested and the culture sent to a state laboratory in Tampa or Jacksonville for confirmation.

Cox knew of no suspicious cases in Manatee County.

Manatee County School District is getting prepared, said Margi Nanney, spokeswoman for the district, said Tuesday. The school district two years ago formed a Pandemic Flu Committee, which wrote a detailed plan on how the school district would handle an outbreak, Nanney said.

“We have a very good plan in place, but we hope we won’t have to use it,” she said. “In the meantime we are watching reports from the CDC and the local health department.”

CDC recommendations and tips on how to avoid swine flu are now posted on the school district’s Web site at www.manatee.k12.fl.us/.

“The message is don’t panic,” Nanney said. “We are seriously watching the situation. We want people to use common sense. Wash your hands.”

Manatee County jail is also on alert, said Randy Warren, spokesman for Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. “We are keeping an eye on those who are getting sick,” Warren said. “Obviously in a facility of 1,100 plus inmates, you have normal runs of medical problems.”

Jail staff is in constant communication with local health officials, Warren added. Like the Salvation Army, the jail has hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the facility.

“Our plan is to keep a very close eye on inmate medical complaints,” said Warren. “If someone did get sick, we would take every measure to isolate that person. We would probably transport that person out of the facility if it were suggested by health officials.”

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