Four area health agencies join forces to prepare for swine flu eventuality

Kim Brown

$174k from feds set aside to educate, distribute vaccine

The Portage County Health Department and local hospitals are preparing for a possible outbreak of swine flu.

“There are all kinds of possibilities,” said Joan Seidel, infection control coordinator at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna. “We’re kind of planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”??

Money must be monitored to accommodate the expected virus impact on the area in the upcoming months. ??

“It’s a new virus that we’ve never seen before, so you don’t have any immunity to it,” Kent health commissioner John Ferlito said. “We’re probably going to see more cases of the flu. We know it’s here. We’ve seen it all summer.”

Three local departments in the county are working together in conjunction with Kent State to fight against the virus. Kent State, Kent’s health department, Portage County Public Health and Ravenna Health Department are combining resources and planning, Ferlito said.

He said the three departments, combined, are receiving about $174,000 from a federal grant for H1N1 protection. ??

Most of the health department’s money has been allocated for educational training and preparation for the free H1N1 vaccinations for the public to arrive this fall, Ferlito said. He said department money will also help pay for volunteer stipends and for nurses and doctors giving the vaccinations. ??

Robinson Memorial Hospital has not received any federal money, but preparation for H1N1 is coming out of the hospital’s general fund, said Jennifer Farquhar, marketing and public relations coordinator for the hospital.

??She said it is difficult to isolate an estimate of the money going toward protecting against the virus because other programs and training such as CPR are included in the fund.

Seidel said pandemic planning is a part of the hospital budget every year, and the hospitals are always anticipating some sort of breakout. She said annual training, memos and educational articles published in various hospital publications have helped create awareness to spend money wisely.

??”I think it would be hard not to be aware of it,” Seidel said. “Some people might be complacent about it, but they know it’s circulating out there in the community. We’re doing a lot of preparing and planning here at the hospital.”

??Ferlito said communities are fortunate the virus appeared at the end of the spring flu season to give time to create a vaccine and prepare. He said it normally takes about six months to isolate a pandemic. ??

Unfortunately, no one knows whether these funds will be enough. If the area is affected by the virus, people can take measures to fight back. ??

“We’re talking to companies and planning that you might see a little bit more absenteeism,” Ferlito said. ??

He said people in public areas and businesses are at risk, especially pregnant women, who are six times more susceptible to infections.

Seidel said she feels the workforce becoming ill would affect the community the most.

Farquhar said most people recover in their homes. Both Ferlito and Seidel said it is important to receive a flu shot in addition to the H1N1 vaccination when it becomes available. Also, they said to use careful hygiene practices and to stay home when sick.

Ferlito said the new vaccine will most likely be provided in stages, with pregnant women receiving it first, then those with existing diseases, medical and emergency divisions, the university and local schools and then the general public. ??

“We want to make it free so everybody can get it,” he said.

Ferlito said it normally takes seven days for a vaccine to take effect. ??

Contact public affairs reporter Kim Brown at [email protected]

H1N1 facts

• H1N1, also known as swine flu, is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Flu viruses are not passed through food.

• Illnesses have ranged from mild to severe. Most people have gotten better at home without medical treatment. Certain groups are at higher risk of complications, such as pregnant women and people with diabetes, heart disease, asthma or kidney disease, as well as people ages 6 months to 24 years old. ?

• H1N1 spreads the same way as seasonal flu: from person to person, through coughs and sneezes of people with the illness.

• The best way to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses is to cover coughs and sneezes with your arm or tissue, and wash hands as soon and often as possible.

• Viruses can live on surfaces for about five hours, and diseases spread when people touch these surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. The best way to prevent sickness is to wash hands often.

• Symptoms include: fever greater than 100 degrees, cough, chills, extreme tiredness, headache and body aches, stuffy nose, sore throat and vomiting and diarrhea in some cases.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Portage County Health Department