Locals buying supplies to fight flu

Published 12:33 am Friday, May 1, 2009

Local pharmacies said Thurs-day Coving-ton County residents are beginning to take precautionary steps to avoid the rapidly spreading “swine flu,” a day after the first case of virus was discovered in Alabama.

Two cases of swine influenza were identified Wednesday in elementary school students in Madison County, and on Thursday, a third case was reported in Montgomery. State health labs were working to screen more than 70 possible cases of the virus.

Swine influenza virus is a respiratory infection caused by influenza type A viruses that typically cause outbreaks of influenza in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can occur. Those cases typically involve people who have had direct contact with pigs, but person-to-person transmission is suspected in recent cases.

“So far, (the) swine flu we are seeing is a mild and treatable disease, no worse than regular seasonal influenza,” said Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer. “We control our own individual risk of acquiring infection. If you are a parent, we encourage you to keep sick children home from school and other activities until they are well and to follow their doctors’ recommendations. We also encourage you to think about how you will manage your child if your child’s school closes.”

Locally, school systems are carefully monitoring the progress of the illness, which has not been reported in Covington County, and no closure plans have been announced.

Statewide, health care officials are advocating hand washing as a precautionary measure, and as a result, local pharmacies are reporting residents are “taking the advice to heart” as the sale of hand sanitizing liquid is increasing.

“We’re selling twice as much hand sanitizer as we were a week ago,” said City Drugs pharmacist Horace Bailey. “People are saying they want to keep it at work or in their vehicle. With the news of this swine flu, I really think they’re paying more attention to the motto of washing your hands.”

While there hasn’t been an increase in the sale of respiratory masks, pharmacists are saying they have seen an increase in the number of Tamiflu prescriptions.

“But I don’t think that has anything to do with the swine flu,” said Jeff Bailey of Pharm-a-care. “We still had a little flu around the area, so there’ve been a few prescriptions filled.”

Cindy McAlpin, a registered nurse and the clinic coordinator for Covington County Health Department, said the symptoms of swine flu in people appear to be similar to the symptoms of regular human influenza.

“Those include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue,” McAplin said. “Ill persons should voluntarily isolate themselves from others for seven days after they experience symptoms.”

Other precautionary measures include:

Covering coughs or sneezes with a sleeve or tissue.

Washing hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective.

Avoiding touching the mouth, eyes and nose with hands.

Trying to avoid close contact with sick people.

“If you get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to avoid infecting them,” she said. “Patients experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should seek health care and treatment.”

McAplin said antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza are effective in this disease, if the patient starts to take them within the first 48 hours of illness.

“But we still have to take preventative measures,” she said. “Those are imperative.”

The state health department is working with hospitals in Madison County and throughout the state to monitor the incidence of pneumonia and influenza-like illnesses and deaths.

In addition, the department is working with Alabama schools to monitor absenteeism.