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Questions and answers about swine flu in Utah

Published April 27, 2009 11:51 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah has no confirmed or even suspected cases of swine flu as of Monday evening. But health officials, hospitals and others are preparing for possible cases. Here's what you need to know, from the Utah Department of Health and other responders.

How worried should I be about the swine flu breaking out in Utah?

Utahns should be highly alert for symptoms -- particularly if you have recently traveled to Mexico or had contact with someone who has -- but otherwise carry on with their normal lives. "What people don't acknowledge is we have deaths from seasonal influenza every year," said David Sundwall, executive director of the Utah Department of Health.

Is it inevitable that Utah will have cases?

It's "likely," Sundwall said, adding: "I'll be surprised if it doesn't show up here." In Idaho, four reports of people with flulike illnesses were being investigated Monday, according to the state Department of Health and Welfare. One person is from Fremont County, two are from Madison County, and the fourth is from Ada County.

Are the symptoms of swine flu different than the seasonal flu?

Not really. Symptoms of either flu may include fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat or cough; some patients may also have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has seen more severe diarrhea or vomiting, or both, in some cases of swine flu.

How do I avoid getting the flu?

Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or ill. Wash your hands frequently. If you're not sick, do not seek anti-viral medication from your doctor unless you have symptoms, the Utah Department of Health urges.

Will my seasonal flu shot protect me?

No.

What should I do if I feel ill?

» Stay home from work or school to avoid spreading the infection.

» Cover your cough with your shirt sleeve. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

» Seek medical care for severe symptoms; clinicians will collect samples for testing at the Utah Public Health Laboratory.

Do Utah's hog farms make the states' residents more vulnerable to swine flu?

No, because people who have the virus generally have not had contact with pigs, said Tom Hudachko, state health department spokesman.

Leonard Blackham, Utah commissioner of Agriculture and Food, added there is no sign that Utah hogs are infected with the new flu, and a network of state and private veterinarians will continue to monitor the health of farm animals.

Because pigs can catch the flu from humans, he added, producers are being urged to keep ill employees away from animals.

The high rate of international travel to and from Utah may be a more problematic factor, Sundwall said.

Can I catch swine flu from eating pork?

No. Swine flu viruses are not transmitted by food. And cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit kills viruses and foodborne pathogens, Blackham said.

What is Utah doing to prepare for possible cases?

» Acquiring about 60,000 doses of anti-viral medication from the Strategic National Stockpile, bringing Utah's arsenal up to more than 100,000. Tamiflu and Relenza appear to affect the symptoms of the swine flu virus.

» Health and hospital officials are urging prevention and planning care for possible swine flu patients, based on existing detailed pandemic flu plans.

» Infectious disease experts and other clinicians at Intermountain Medical Center, Utah's largest Trauma 1 center, met Monday morning to discuss how to respond to the nation's declaration of a public health emergency and to prepare for potential patients.

» As a precaution, patients coming to any Intermountain Healthcare hospitals in the Salt Lake Valley -- LDS Hospital, Alta View Hospital and The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital -- are being asked to wear a mask if they have respiratory illnesses or symptoms, including coughing. Visitors with such symptoms are being asked to stay away.

» University Hospital alerted staff to be on the look out for symptoms, but had not seen an influx of patients with apparent swine flu symptoms. MountainStar hospitals, including St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City, also are preparing to treat possible swine flu patients and are isolating patients with infectious symptoms in the meantime.

Is Salt Lake City International Airport taking precautions?

Airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann said a "very small" number of Customs officials and airline agents in the International terminal are voluntarily wearing masks and gloves to protect themselves.

She said as of Sunday, Delta Airlines stopped its last nonstop flight to Mexico City, because of a seasonal lull in travel. The airport still has 14 weekly nonstop flights to San Jose, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun, Mexico. That is 1,700 seats each week, Gann said.

"Our exposure to direct Mexico flights is minimal," she said.

Is the outbreak having an affect on Utahns' travel plans?

Not yet. Morris Murdock Travel had only four cancellations Monday out of almost 1,000 people who had booked trips to Mexican resorts. A handful of customers switched destinations from Mexico to Hawaii or the Caribbean, said spokesman Jim Barsch. Mexico is the second largest source of foreign tourists to Utah, so industry officials are watching reports closely, but trying not to create a panic. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has not altered plans for a May 11-14 trade mission to Israel.

Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taking any precautions for missionaries in Mexico? Are all missionaries well?

Missionaries are safe but church authorities have canceled all meetings until further notice. LDS leaders have also advised missionaries and members in Mexico City to follow basic sanitary precautions as a guard against infections. LDS Church records show 1,121,933 members in Mexico and 21 missions with between 75 and 150 missionaries each.

Where can I learn more?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer more information at http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu" Target="_BLANK">http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu. Utah has developed its own site at http://health.utah.gov/epi/SwineFlu/" target="_blank">health.utah.gov/epi/SwineFlu/.

Tribune reporters Julia Lyon, Jason Bergreen, Mike Gorrell and Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this report.