March 11, 2010

Precautions taken as first cases detected Governor acts to fight virus, treat patients

DENNIS HOEY

— By

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Doctors look at the charts of a patient who is suspected of having swine flu at a hospital in Oaxaca, Mexico, Wednesday, April 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

AP

Dora Anne Mills
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Dora Anne Mills

AP

and DIETER BRADBURY

Staff Writers

Gov. John Baldacci declared a civil emergency late Wednesday, as the state reacted to the closure of two schools in York County with students who were exhibiting symptoms of the swine flu.

That announcement came after the Maine Center for Disease Control confirmed the first three cases of swine flu in Maine.

David Farmer, spokesman for the governor, said the civil emergency order is similar to those issued during power outages.

It allows the governor to spend funds and deploy Maine National Guard members as needed to meet the demands placed on hospitals and health care providers.

''This is a serious situation,'' Baldacci said, in a prepared statement. ''We are taking these precautions to slow the spread of the flu and to make sure Maine can respond quickly and efficiently.''

The confirmed Maine cases were two adults in Kennebec County and one adult in York County.

They did not require hospitalization and are being treated at home.

Farmer said the two children in York County showing flu symptoms live in the same household as the adult who has a confirmed case of swine flu.

As a result, state health officials notified School Administrative District 71 officials late Wednesday that the Kennebunk Elementary School should be closed.

One of the students attends that school.

The Crayon Academy day care center in Arundel, which the second child attends, will also be closed.

Both schools will be closed for at least seven calendar days.

David Connerty-Marin, spokes- man for the Maine Department of Education, said about 450 students attend the kindergarten through grade three elementary school in Kennebunk.

The day care center serves around 50 children, he said.

Parents of students at the two schools are being advised to keep their children home and to bring them to medical professionals if they begin to exhibit flu symptoms. No action is needed if a child is symptom-free.

No other schools in Maine were expected to be closed today, though officials warned that could change quickly.

On Wednesday, state officials stepped up their public education campaign and spent $2.2 million in economic stimulus funds on more flu drugs.

Meanwhile, tests were being run on virus samples from several dozen other sick Mainers who may have been exposed to the flu through travel or contact with an infected person.

State officials said they expect more cases to surface in Maine.

''It is important for the citizens of Maine to prepare for this as they would any other emergency situation,'' said Gov. Baldacci.

''We have weathered storms before, whether it be an ice storm or a blizzard. There are important steps we can all take to minimize the impact of this virus.''

Baldacci said the state has ordered 500,000 treatment courses of anti-viral drugs, which will be purchased with about $2.175 million from economic stimulus funds.

That's in addition to 30,000 to 40,000 treatment courses that are being released to the state from a federal stockpile overseen by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The smaller order is expected to arrive Sunday, and Baldacci said the large volume of purchased drugs will be here within the next seven to 10 days.

The drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, are not vaccines but help to reduce the severity of the flu in sick people and inhibit transmission to others, said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the state health officer.

She said the drugs would likely be used chiefly on people who are hospitalized with serious cases.

Baldacci and Mills appeared at two press conferences in Augusta, where they urged Mainers to use good personal hygiene to avoid the flu and keep from spreading it.

They emphasized washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer; coughing or sneezing into a tissue or sleeve; and staying home for one or two days after a fever subsides.

''What we're telling the public is, if you have symptoms, you need to stay home, stay away from other people and call your health care provider,'' Mills said.

However, Mills also said the public should use their judgment and report only illnesses that are marked by flu symptoms, including a fever accompanied by sore throat, cough, runny nose, headaches and body aches, chills and fatigue.

She recalled the anthrax scare that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when public officials were inundated with reports of white powders that proved to be harmless.

''Not every white powder needs to be tested,'' she said. ''Likewise, not every person with a cough or sneeze needs to be tested.''

Mills said the number of calls to the disease control center is escalating, both from the public and from doctors and other health-care providers.

The center has added staff to handle those calls, she said.

However, she and Baldacci both urged the public to be alert but not alarmed, saying the state is prepared to deal with a flu outbreak and has a plan in place.

Pharmacies report that they are fielding questions about swine flu prevention and are selling more flu-fighting products.

But they said Wednesday that Mainers did not appear to be panicking about the first cases of confirmed swine flu virus in the state.

''People are buying a lot more hand sanitizers and the alcohol-based gels,'' said Paul Chace, pharmacist and owner of the Old Port Pharmacy in Portland.

He said people are buying surgical masks despite his advice not to since they offer no significant protection against the flu. ''People are nervous,'' he said.

Angela McGarrigle, pharmacist and owner of Good for All Pharmacy in Waterboro and Kennebunk, said her elderly customers are asking the most questions about swine flu.

''They want to do whatever they can for protection,'' she said.

State officials held conference calls Monday with emergency management agencies, hospitals and school superintendents to share information and flu prevention tips.

Mills said all public agencies and private businesses with pandemic plans should activate them.

She also urged Mainers to visit the federal government's Web site, pandemicflu.gov, for flu prevention information for individuals and families.

In York County, Goodall Hospital in Sanford set up a new hotline -- (207) 490-7373 -- for concerned citizens and activated its pandemic team to be prepared for any local impact.

Staff Writers Beth Quimby and Noel Gallagher contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

Staff Writer Dieter Bradbury can be contacted at 791-6329 or at:

dbradbury@pressherald.com

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