Md. Braces For Swine Flu With New Command Center

BALTIMORE (WJZ) ―

The number of cases of swine flu appears to be growing in the US. Another five probable cases were identified in New Jersey. There are no cases yet in Maryland, but precautions are being taken. Kelly McPherson explains what the state is doing and what you need to know.

Maryland health officials say there were no confirmed or suspected cases of swine flu in the state as of Monday afternoon.

Flanked by some of the top doctors in the state, Governor O’Malley delivered a message about swine flu Monday.

“Right now, we are watching this; we are monitoring this, and we are taking appropriate actions in conjunction with all our public health officials, so we anticipate because of this, that there will probably be a case in Maryland,” said O’Malley.

At the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, emergency responders and health officials monitor reports from a command center just set up Monday morning.

“In Maryland, we have been planning for public health emergencies for years, and we have tested and trained ourselves for various scenarios following an all-hazards approach. So regardless of the public health emergency is, we’re going to be ready for it,” said Secretary John Colmers, Department of Health.

The state has a detailed pandemic flu playbook, a major component of it are reports from doctors and hospitals and tracking over the counter medication sales.

“Here in Maryland we have a bio-surveillance system that gives us near real time evidence of what is going on in hospital emergency departments across the state,” said Fran Phillips, deputy secretary of public health.

“Have there been lab tests that have been sent to the state lab for testing, yes, but to date, there have been no positive test results,” said Colmers.

With 48 cases reported so far in the United States, they say it’s not a question of if the disease makes it to Maryland, but when. When that time comes, they plan to be ready to fight it.

The state has stockpiled hundreds of thousands of anti-viral drugs in case there is an outbreak. As a precaution, the federal government has sent 200,000 doses to Maryland, which already had 276,000.

“We’re at a heightened state of readiness for if and when there is a need for us to respond, we’re fully prepared with a plan. Plans have been developed for the past few years. We have exercised and drilled them and if we need to pull the trigger and kick into action, we are ready to do so,” said Phillips.

Symptoms of swine flu closely resemble that of the regular flu we are accustomed to. Because of that, health officials across the state are paying close attention to people complaining of fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

“This is evidence of person to person transmission and it’s spread just like the flu, from droplets from sneezes. So, it’s the kind of thing to stay away from people. If you know that people are sick, you want to take care of yourself and your family members,” said Phillips.

Health officials say the first line of defense against swine flu is the common sense approach.

“Protection is the basics–it’s hand washing, staying home if you’re not feeling well. It’s to make sure you and your families do the kind of things that we take for granted. If you sneeze, sneeze into your sleeve or tissue. Those are the kinds of basic protections for any kind of flu, now including swine flu,” said Phillips. “Right now there is no vaccine that is going to work for this new swine flu virus. The good news is all evidence out of Mexico and the United States is that this virus [responds to] the medications that can be given to people after they develop the disease to help them more rapidly heal.”

Even though the virus is called the swine flu, health officials say it cannot be caught from eating pork.

Travelers flying back into BWI after staying in Cancun, Mexico, say they noticed the outbreak but were not overly concerned.

“I actually have a home down there. Our neighbors are from Mexico City. They brought their kids out there because school was closed in Mexico City, but there was no alarm whatsoever,” said Ken Muller.

“We saw a few people with masks at the airport but other than that, if we hadn’t watched the news, we wouldn’t have known anything was going on,” said Robin Wilson.

The airport handed out a sheet outlining symptoms to look for now that they’re home.

Of the 40 confirmed cases of swine flu in five states so far, no one has died. But the virus is believed to have killed dozens in Mexico, and the United States has declared a public health emergency.

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