Portage County prepared for swine flu pandemic

Nick Walton

DuWayne Porter, Portage County health commissioner, said people in Kent should feel relieved about the recent case of swine flu.

In July 2008, the county ran a simulated scenario to prepare for a potential pandemic flu.

“We’ve been through this, and we practiced it, so most of the health departments in our area are probably as ready as we ever will be for this kind of thing to come through,” Porter said. “We’ve gone through the exercises, we have the information we need available to us and we’re going to try to address this the best we can.”

Why this matters to you:

Although swine flu is spreading, Portage County officials are well prepared for an outbreak.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 64 cases of swine flu reported in the United States as of yesterday, including one in Ohio.

“I’m happy to be able to report that this individual seems to had a mild strain and is recovering,” said Kristopher Weiss, spokesman at the Ohio Department of Health.

Weiss said the CDC is trying to figure out where the epicenter of the virus is, and there has never been a human case of this virus before recently.

Symptoms of swine flu:

Symptoms include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. According to the CDC, some people with swine flu have reported having a runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

“The thing that’s concerning to the public health community is that it is a new virus that has never been seen before in humans, and therefore, people don’t have any natural immunity to it,” Weiss said. “We’re fortunate here that our case has been a mild case, but people with swine flu are going to have symptoms similar of seasonal flu.”

Christopher Woolverton, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Kent State, said there are separate influenza viruses that can infect pigs, birds and humans and sometimes cross species and go under a different host. Although he said it’s rare, Woolverton said the viruses have crossed, causing swine flu.

“Now this particular virus, even though the background of the genetic information says that it should only infect pigs, is infecting people,” Woolverton said. “Because of the way the mutations occurred when the genes all combined, not only does it infect people, but it also infects people very easily.”

Woolverton said this is a concern because the virus can get into a person’s cells through his or her throat.

“The virus attaches and gets into the cells that are in the throat and upper respiratory tract,” Woolverton said. “When those cells die because of the virus, they release new viruses that sit in your throat. And then when you cough or sneeze or even when you talk, they get projected out of the person and into the air.”

Woolverton said the most important thing to remember is to take the proper prevention steps and not panic about a possible pandemic with one case in Ohio.

“I don’t think we really need to worry about swine flu in Ohio at this stage in the game,” Woolverton said. “If we start seeing more cases, that’s a different story we’ll have to convey, but right now I’d say don’t panic, practice good hand hygiene, covering your cough (and staying) abreast with the news.”

Contact health reporter Nick Walton at [email protected].