Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Three possible swine flu cases in Saskatchewan
REGINA -- Saskatchewan is readying for potential swine flu cases as the world waits to see how the respiratory illness unfolds.
Although there were no confirmed cases in the province as of Monday evening, politicians and health officials reassured the public that plans are in place to handle an outbreak should one develop.
"We expect that we'll have a lot of people under investigation that we'll have to do lab tests on. We don't know how many will be positive but it's probable that we will, at some stage, get a case," Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Moira McKinnon told reporters gathered at the T.C. Douglas building in Regina, where the health ministry has set up an "operations centre" to monitor the evolving swine flu situation.
The province is currently awaiting results of lab tests for three people in the Cypress, Five Hills and Prince Albert Parkland health regions who showed symptoms of possible swine flu, while another five people have tested negative, said McKinnon. The individuals waiting for results of lab tests, which must be confirmed in Winnipeg, are all resting at home, McKinnon said.
She emphasized that the six cases of swine flu confirmed in B.C. and Nova Scotia have all been "mild," as have the cases in the U.S., unlike in Mexico where it is suspected in more than 100 deaths.
The province is preparing "as if this is a pandemic," but the situation might instead fizzle out, she said.
Ten people are staffing the central operations centre, set up Friday, to gather infection control information, assess how the stockpile of anti-virals could be mobilized if needed, provide information to travellers and keep up-to-date on the latest developments. Individual health regions are also setting up their own operations centres.
"I would just reassure people that the ministry is on top of it, we are monitoring it and let's certainly hope that we don't have any confirmed cases but in the event that we do I think that the Ministry of Health and the regions are positioned very well," said Health Minister Don McMorris.
An information sheet is being given to visitors at airports, alerting them to "clusters of severe respiratory illness" in Mexico being tracked by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
McKinnon said potential swine flu cases involve people who develop influenza-like illness — with symptoms such as fever and cough — within 10 days of returning from Mexico and those who get sick after being in contact with others from Mexico who are unwell.
The province is asking people to see their family physicians or call the HealthLine at 1-877-800-0002 if they have concerns. Only nine people called the line with influenza related inquiries on Sunday, McKinnon said.
People are encouraged to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand gel, as a prevention tool. McKinnon said people should also cough or sneeze in the crook of their elbow, rather than their hands, to prevent the spread of influenza.
Saskatchewan has been preparing for a "moderate pandemic" for a few years, so if that such an event were to occur plans would be ready, she said. There is also a stockpile of anti-virals that would be enough to treat the people that estimates suggest could fall ill in that scenario, she said.
Regina, too, has been involved in planning for the possibility a pandemic might one day occur, including how the services important to the public would continue to be provided, said Grant Nicurity, deputy of public safety, planning and prevention for the City of Regina's Fire and Protective Services.
"If this or any other influenza outbreak were to escalate what we really have to do is switch into more of a business continuity mode," he said, adding the city would be directed by health authorities as action was warranted.
But he also urged people not to panic as media attention worldwide centres on the swine flu.
"The sky is not falling yet," he said.
"What we're really doing right now is due diligence."
Also watching the swine flu developments is the University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), which has been doing research and developing swine flu vaccinations for pigs, as well as work related to humans, said director Andy Potter.
"It's very early days," said Potter, who noted the mortality rate has not been that high. "We'll have to wait and see but everything I've seen, the cases in Canada, the cases in the U.S., would suggest that maybe we don't have too worry too much."http://www.thestarphoenix.com/News/Three+possible+swine+cases+Saskatchewan/1541730/story.html