Swine flu “widespread” in Indian River County, says Health Department expert

By Lisa Zahner

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Swine flu is far more “widespread” in Indian River County than the official numbers would indicate, according to an Indian River County Health Department expert.

In an effort to prescribe early and effective treatment for swine flu patients, local doctors have found a reliable rapid-response test to use in place of the official H1N1 test, therefore rendering the “confirmed case” statistics meaningless, she said. The doctors are testing patients for influenza A, which gives them results in 15 minutes, rather than using the H1N1 test where results do not come back for several days. That way, they can quickly get patients testing positive started on an antiviral like Tamiflu.

Maureen Feaster of the Indian River County Health Department said 95 to 98 percent of the patients testing positive for influenza A — who are then tested for H1N1 — ultimately turn out to also have tested positive for swine flu.

“People are not getting tested for H1N1,” said Feaster, who has served as Indian River County’s senior nursing supervisor of epidemiology for the past 20 years. “We are not giving the H1N1 test unless a patient presents very ill already.”

“When I say we’ve got 66 documented cases, that does not count the 90-plus percent of the people testing positive for influenza A,” said Feaster. “It is so widespread throughout the community that to keep the numbers would be more than we could keep track of. It would be astronomical.”

If the 66 confirmed H1N1 cases are any indication which patients are most likely to be coming down with swine flu, Feaster said 56 out of the 66 documented cases are in the under 19 age group. Seven cases have shown up in ages 19 to 50 and only 3 in people over age 51.

When a patient tests positive for any type of influenza, Feaster said, it is cruical for them to self-isolate.

“The important thing we want people to know is that they should not go to school, daycare, work or any public place where there is a large number of people for seven days or for 24 hours after the symptoms subside, whichever is longer,” she said. “We realize that for some people, if they don’t go to work they don’t get paid, but from a public health standpoint, we really need them to self-isolate for the entire seven days because that’s what contains the spread of the virus.”

Symptoms of the H1N1 virus include a temperature elevated over 100 degrees accompanied by a cough and/or a sore throat. Feaster said anyone, regardless of citizenship or health insurance status, can get free treatment at the Indian River County Health Department at the main location near the Indian River County Administration Building or at the Gifford Health Clinic.

“We do not turn anyone away,” she said.

It is recommended that anyone who is exhibiting these symptoms get to a doctor to start on a course of antiviral medication — usually Tamiflu or its generic equivalent — as soon as possible.

People who have the flu or think they may have the flu should stay away from infants, small children, pregnant women, the elderly or anyone who has a compromised immune system.

The simplest, but most effective way to prevent contracting the flu is through diligent hand-washing.

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