Infectious disease expert says no reason to panic over swine flu

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - Swine flu is among the hot topics at the "All Hazards Preparedness" conference in Biloxi. Health care workers and emergency responders are meeting at the coliseum convention center.

One of the leading infectious disease experts in the country led a discussion about being prepared for a possible swine flu epidemic.

Christine Nutty is a well educated and respected infectious disease expert from southern Illinois. She was called to Asia several years ago as a consultant during the SARS epidemic.

She revised her prepared remarks to the conference Tuesday to address the growing fears about "swine flu."

"This is the perfect drill for America to be thinking about an infectious disease disaster. Because it's not happening yet here, but we do have plenty of cases," said Christine Nutty, "Everyone is dusting off their disaster manuals and thinking, 'Well, what would we do if it hit our community?'"

Nutty urges preparation, not panic, in addressing growing worries about swine flu.

"What if you had 100 people come to your facility saying, 'I think I've got it.' Where would you house them? Where would you put them? How would you activate your disaster plan?  Think about all of those things," said Nutty.

She says hospital emergency rooms need an adequate supply of things like masks and gloves and hand sanitizer.

"You have to be able to handle what the disease is. You have to know the information specific to that disease to begin to calm people down and begin to handle it," she told the group of health care and emergency workers.

Harrison County's emergency operations director says an outbreak of flu could mean setting up vaccine distribution locations.

"If we had to go to into the medications and pod distribution sites and we've been working on that since Katrina, or actually before Katrina. So, we've revised that and the health department is keeping us abreast," said Director Rupert Lacy.

MEMA Director Mike Womack told WLOX News that while swine flu is not a serious concern in Mississippi right now, it is something his agency is well aware of and prepared to handle, should there be an outbreak in our state.

"Right now, the only thing the federal government is going to do is provide some of the medication to each of the states to make sure if we do start having a large number of cases, we've already got the medication in the state and can make distribution quickly," said Womack.

"It's a good time to look at your preparations, your planning, and think "what if" and get ready," Nutty said.

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