State on guard against swine flu


POSTED: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gov. Linda Lingle's administration has stepped up health screening of airline passengers to include domestic flights at Honolulu Airport as officials across the country seek to contain the spread of swine flu.

Domestic passengers identified by flight attendants or pilots as potentially having the flu virus will undergo a medical evaluation, similar to selected passengers on international flights, state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said.

The expansion of surveillance began Friday.

;[Preview]    Department of Health Swine Flu Preparations

The Department of Health encourages doctors to be on the lookout and prepare for patients with swine flu

Watch ]


A similar surveillance has been partially implemented on the Big Island, and health officials are looking at imposing a similar screening on Maui and Kauai.

So far, the flu seems to be milder in the United States than Mexico, Park said.

State health officials said while Mexico has had flu deaths—149, according to news reports—no cases have been reported in Hawaii and only one person has been hospitalized in the United States.

Lingle said the state was taking measures to deal with the flu should it reach Hawaii. “;People should not be alarmed ... but they should be concerned,”; Lingle said yesterday at a news conference.

Meanwhile, federal health agencies have advised U.S. citizens against nonessential travel to Mexico and have stepped up checks along border states.

The World Health Organization has raised the warning level for swine flu but stopped short of declaring a global emergency.

State Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino said the state has enough antiviral medicine to treat 25 percent of the resident and visitor population. Federal health officials are working on developing a vaccine, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that will take several months.

Health officials said the state is looking at an active health screening that would involve asking visitors to fill in a health-declaration form.

State health officials said there was no risk of contracting the virus through pigs in Hawaii, and there was no evidence showing pigs in the United States had contracted this particular flu strain.

While 15,000 pigs are imported into Hawaii from the western United States, they are quarantined and inspected before slaughter.

“;The consensus is if pork is properly handled and properly cooked, you're not going to get influenza,”; said state Veterinarian Dr. James Foppoli.

Elliot Telles, a director of the Hawaii Pork Industry Association, said he has not noticed any adverse business effect as a result of swine flu's notoriety.

Telles said as a standard practice, Hawaii pig farmers enforce certain “;bio-security”; measures to protect their animals, such as keeping visitors in an area away from the pigs. He also said farmers change from street clothes into work clothes to reduce the chance of contamination.

With a climate similar to Hawaii's, Mexico is not a major travel destination for Hawaii residents, and the latest federal travel advisory is not expected to severely affect the travel business here, said Gene Miyake, vice president of Non-Stop Travel on Oahu.

Miyake said with spring break finished, there is even less of a demand for travel to Mexico.

In a 1918-19 pandemic influenza epidemic in Hawaii, some 12,000 cases were reported, including 32 deaths, according to federal health officials. The flu caused an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide, according to the CDC.




Protect yourself

        » Swine flu symptoms: Similar to regular flu, they include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting.

» Complications: Severe illness, including pneumonia and respiratory failure, and death. Like seasonal flu, swine flu can cause a worsening of underlying chronic conditions.


» How it spreads: Mainly person to person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.




        » Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Throw tissues away after using them.

» Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.


» Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.


» Try to avoid close contact with sick people.


» If you get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others. If you suspect you have swine flu, see a physician.