MOUNT VERNON — Two Knox County residents have been tested and found negative for H1N1, formerly referred to as swine flu, Jackie Fletcher, RN, told a host of Knox County’s most influential leaders Friday afternoon.
The two, a male and female, met the criteria for the test: Flu-like symptoms and exposure to someone who has been to Mexico in the last seven to 10 days. Fletcher went to the residence of the infirmed on Monday and took the culture. It was then sent to the Ohio Department of Health for testing.
“They said it would take seven days to get the results, but they were posted yesterday and they were both negative,” said Fletcher, director of nursing for the Knox County Health Department.
If the cultures had tested positive, they would have been forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for official confirmation.
The health department hosted the meeting to communicate to county officials and medical personnel information gathered through conference calls with the ODH as well as information from the CDC.
h1n1 flu virus
“The phones have been ringing off the hook here,” said Dennis Murray, health commissioner. “People are wanting to know what they can do. I tell them not to panic, there is no reason for concern. ... The media can really hype up some fears and we don’t want you to get caught up in fear.”
Several in attendance questioned the difference between H1N1 and seasonal flu and why all the attention now. Fletcher explained that cases found in the United States have presented like a mild form of seasonal flu, with the exception of high fever and perhaps diarrhea; however, with this being a new and unique strain, it is necessary to follow it more closely.
Murray cautions residents to keep a level head about the illness, and to remember that prevention for H1N1 is the same as any seasonal flu — cover coughs with a sleeve or arm; wash hands; avoid touching eyes, mouth or nose; and avoid close contact with sick people, especially those who have traveled to Mexico recently.
If a resident believes he or she might have H1N1, they are advised to stay home and call a medical provider. If the criteria is met and ODH requests one, a culture will be taken and the doctor can order a prescription for Tamiflu or Relenza, Fletcher said. If individuals do not have a primary physician, they are encouraged to call the health department at 392-2220. This “shelter in place” measure was designed to help contain the virus instead of possibly infecting other people at the doctor’s office or the emergency room of Knox Community Hospital.
When asked if the “shelter in place” measure would keep emergency medical personnel from transporting patients with flu-like systems to KCH, Chris Menapace, Mount Vernon Fire Department assistant fire chief, said the department is working with its medical advisor on that.
“At this point, we haven’t adjusted any of our treatment or any of our assessment plans working with the hospital. ... If the true best case for our community is to isolate these people, to shelter in place or social distance them, then taking them to the hospital is the worst thing we can do,” he said.
A screening form has been compiled that asks specific questions about the patient. It is this screening process ODH will use to determine if cultures will be requested for testing.
“ODH decides what cultures are sent to them. After there are so many cases in a specific area, we will stop taking cultures and treat for H1N1,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher confirmed that Ohio’s share of the federal stockpile of antiviral medicines has arrived in the state under strict protection of the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Ohio National Guard. It will be distributed to eight different sectors in the state before being broken down by county, if a large outbreak occurs. The medications, Fletcher said, are only useful to someone with H1N1 and only if administered within 48 hours of onset. Taking the drug if not diagnosed with H1N1 is not recommended.
“It can be dangerous to take it if you don’t need it. Like antibiotics, it can lose its effectiveness. It is not a vaccine to prevent H1N1, it is only for people with the illness or exposure to the illness,” Fletcher said.
As of 2:45 p.m. Friday, there were 141 confirmed cases of H1N1 in the United States with one fatality, said Pam Palm, public information officer for the health department.
The only confirmed case in Ohio was diagnosed in an Elyria elementary student, who has since recovered but continues to remain at home. Murray said the boy’s school closed based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That recommendation, Murray said, was changed earlier this week by the CDC from seven to 10 days to closing for 14 days. To keep up with changes in CDC guidelines and H1N1 statistics, Murray encourages residents to visit www.cdc.gov/H1N1. For state statistics, visit www.columbuspandemicflu.com.
There are currently four probable cases in Ohio that are being tested by ODH, including one in Holmes County, two in Franklin County and one in Portage County, Palm said.
Both Palm and Murray reminded officials the county is prepared in case an extensive outbreak takes place in Knox County.
“We have been exercising for this the past couple of years,” Palm said. “We did these exercises on bird flu in five hours and now we have the time to make sure we are doing everything right.”
2-1-1 Pathways has joined the education process for citizens of Knox and Licking counties. A question-and-answer sheet was developed by the health department to assist call center workers with answering questions regarding H1N1.
“We hope to divert some calls from the health department and 9-1-1,” said Kristin McCloud, executive director of 2-1-1 Pathways.