Tamiflu, shown here at Lyon's Corner Drug, could help combat the spread of swine flu. The downtown Steamboat Springs store has the drug in stock, but no cases of swine flu have been confirmed anywhere in Colorado.

Photo by John F. Russell

Tamiflu, shown here at Lyon's Corner Drug, could help combat the spread of swine flu. The downtown Steamboat Springs store has the drug in stock, but no cases of swine flu have been confirmed anywhere in Colorado.

Swine flu fears have Routt County on alert

Health workers encourage residents to remain calm, cautious

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Tips for avoiding the flu and not spreading it

- Wash hands frequently

- Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow or sleeve, not your hands

- Avoid touching your eyes or mouth

- Limit contact with others if you are sick

- Avoid contact with sick people

- If you feel ill, go to your physician for a nasal swab and flu test

Swine flu symptoms include: rapid onset of fever, body aches, headaches, general tiredness or malaise, sore throat and ear aches.

For more information, call the CoHELP hotline at 877-462-2911, or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at http://cdc.gov/sw...

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association recommends Routt County residents make sure they and their families are prepared for an emergency that could require them to stay home for several days to two weeks. For more information on home preparedness, visit www.readycolorado...

— Routt County health workers are encouraging residents to be alert but calm as a deadly strain of swine flu spreads from Mexico, a popular vacation destination for many Steamboat families during the past couple weeks. No cases of swine flu had been confirmed in Colorado as of Monday evening.

The latest strain of the virus, which has been confirmed in 50 cases in five U.S. states as close as Kansas, originally was detected in central Mexico. More than 100 Steamboat Springs High School students and family members spent last week's spring break in Mexico, and Yampa Valley Medical Center experts are urging those travelers to take extra caution.

Steve Hilley, infection prevention coordinator at the hospital, said he has received "quite a few nervous people coming through the emergency department" with concerns and potential symptoms.

"I think people who have a history of going to Mexico need to be concerned. They need to have a heightened awareness," he said. "If they come down with symptoms like a rapid onset of fever, body aches, headaches, general tiredness or malaise, sore throat : or ear ache : it could be a sign of the virus or influenza."

Julie Rabbitt, owner and manager of Steamboat Reservations and Travel, said most travelers from Steamboat chose to visit Riviera Maya, a resort area on the Yucatan Peninsula. Those tourists flew through Cancun International Airport to arrive at their destinations. The 28 New York City students who have confirmed cases of swine flu spent last week in Cancun for their spring break. Those cases, along with all other swine flu cases reported in the U.S., have been mild. However, more than 149 people are suspected to have died from the virus in Mexico.

Hilley said residents have no need to panic, and most of the visitors to the emergency room so far have been "worried well, so to speak," he said. "We've got to take this down a notch to make sure people don't panic, because there's no reason to right now. We're watching it, we've got an eye on the target, and if we see something occurring, trust me, we're going to move very fast and very rapidly to respond."

The incubation time for swine flu is from three to four days, and anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees for 24 hours or longer is encouraged to visit a doctor.

Local schools are notifying parents with a release sent via e-mail and published on the Steamboat Springs School District's Web site recommending basic precautions including washing hands and covering sneezes and coughs. Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said there are no sick students reported in the schools, and everything is operating normally.

"We're treating this as any other flu that is going around," she said. I have had phone calls from parents "just wanting to know if we were going to exclude students who were coming home from Mexico, which, of course, we're not doing."

Gov. Bill Ritter said in a news conference Sunday that the public should stock up on food and water and stay home if a fever comes on. The World Health Organization on Monday afternoon increased the threat level to 4 from 3.

The flu vaccine used this year is not effective against the new strain of virus, Hilley said, and a swine flu vaccination is five to six months away from completion.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends vaccines for people interested in traveling to Mexico in the near future, said Ilanit Kateb, director of public health for Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

"The CDC has just recommended that people go ahead and get the flu shot," she said. "It is not expected to protect against swine flu, but it will protect against regular flu."

Officials at Yampa Valley Regional Airport are not yet handing out swine flu symptom cards, as the CDC has at some larger airports. YVRA Manager Dave Ruppel said airport officials are keeping in touch with health officials.

"What we have done with this kind of thing in the past is that we work closely with the VNA and the emergency services folks with how to handle it. But it's definitely a concern with the way people move around in this day and age," he said.

Jim Johnsen, the emergency preparedness and rescue coordinator for VNA, said his office has been in constant contact with local schools, hospitals, health care providers and elected officials as more information about swine flu is made available by the CDC and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

"Right now, because of the nature of this - and it's so early into this - we're referring almost all of the public phone calls to CoHELP," he said. That bilingual hot line, the Colorado Health Emergency Line for the Public, is at 877-462-2911. The number's automated answering service warns callers that the center is experiencing a high volume of calls and wait times may be long.

"Everything that's been out in the press at this point has been accurate. The most important tips are just basic personal hygiene - covering your cough or sniffles with your elbow and not just your hand, doing your own personal assessment of (asking yourself) do you feel sick, do you have a fever over a sustained time," he said. "Everybody needs to take a personal responsibility on their own for their health."

The flu is spread from person to person and, as with every other kind of flu, there are several strains as it constantly evolves. There is no swine flu risk associated with eating pork.

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