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No swine flu cases in area

Though there are no confirmed cases of swine flu in Pennsylvania, local health officials are keeping an eye on the virus that’s linked to deaths in Mexico and has sickened more than 1,000 others throughout North America and Europe.

The state Department of Health has notified health care providers across Pennsylvania to be watchful for patients with influenza-like illness who may have been exposed to the new swine flu strain and to immediately inform local health departments of any suspected cases.

The department has also confirmed that in addition to its existing supply of about 1 million courses of anti-viral medications Tamiflu and Relenza, which have been shown to treat the virus strain, it has requested an additional amount of close to 2 million courses from the federal government as a precaution. Two pills a day for five days constitutes one course of the medicine.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Everette James said that even though there haven’t been any confirmed cases in the state, “we are committed to keeping our health care providers, local health agencies, and the public informed as this situation develops.”

The department has said it will assist all health care providers in evaluating the patients, recommending control measures, and assisting in specimen collection and testing when indicated.

Bernard Healey, an epidemiologist and professor at King’s College, said this week will be an important one in determining how much of a public health threat the strain is. The typical flu season, for almost all strains, ends in April. He said many people will be breathing a sigh of relief when the last day comes.

Up until then, Healey said, he hopes people follow basic health safety precautions and don’t take any indications they may have contracted the disease for granted.

“If you sneeze, cover. If you’re sick, stay home. And throughout the day, wash your hands with soap and water. That’s enough to prevent the spread of the disease,” Healey said.

Healey said the Centers for Disease Control did the right thing over the weekend by alerting people to the virus and informing the public of what to look for and what to do. He said he anticipates clinics and physician offices to see plenty of people who believe they may have the virus.

“And that’s the right thing to do in this case. If you think you have the symptoms, seek help and treatment,” Healey said.

Dave Jolley, a spokesman for Geisinger Health System, said Geisinger hospitals and clinics have not seen any patients exhibiting swine flu-like symptoms, which are similar to those of regular or seasonal flu.

“Patients are mentioning swine flu from seeing the media coverage, but we haven’t had anyone express concern that he or she may be suffering from it,” Jolley said. He said emergency physicians have been instructed to ask any patients presenting with flu-like symptoms if they have traveled to or from Mexico recently.

Jim Schilling, spokesman for the Wyoming Valley Health Care System, said staffs at neither Wilkes-Barre General nor First Hospital have indicated anyone who has come in asking to be checked for swine flu. He said the system established a task force Monday to be better prepared in the instance swine flu was found locally.

Efforts to reach Ted Cross with the Wilkes-Barre Public Health Department were unsuccessful.

Stacy Kriedeman, Department of Health spokeswoman, said the state has no suspected cases of swine flu but “given that we’ve seen cases in Ohio and New York we anticipate we may see cases here.”

Kriedeman said the state is keeping apprised of advisories being issued by federal agencies and is disseminating information to local health officials.

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