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N.C. ready for potential swine flu crisis, officials say

State Health Director Dr. Jeff Engel said Monday morning that state agencies are as prepared as they can be, if a swine flu outbreak becomes a pandemic.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — As the United States and other countries across the globe increased their vigilance over the threat of spreading swine flu infections, North Carolina officials said Monday they are prepared if the situation turns into a public health issue in the state.

"I can tell you we've never been better prepared," State Health Director Dr. Jeff Engel told reporters at a news briefing Monday morning.

The U.S. over the weekend declared a national health emergency after reports that the strain of flu had caused more than 100 deaths and more than 1,600 illnesses in Mexico alone.

The World Health Organization has reported 40 confirmed cases in the U.S., none of which have been fatal. That's twice the number previously reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Engel said there were no confirmed cases in North Carolina as of Monday morning, but he called the outbreak "a dynamic situation where things are changing by the hour."

The state Department of Health and Human Services is being briefed by the CDC twice a day, he said, and local agencies are ready to handle any suspected flu cases, and response teams are on hand to help if needed.

Gov. Bev Perdue, in a statement Monday morning, said she is monitoring the situation and is confident in the state's readiness for a potential pandemic.

"North Carolina is equipped with a full supply of antiviral medications and personal protective supplies such as face masks," Perdue said. "We have public health teams ready to deploy to any community in our state that needs assistance."

Engel said the state has a stockpile of about 660,000 doses of treatment and that an allotment from the CDC should arrive next week.

Hospitals, meanwhile, were reviewing emergency plans Monday, just in case.

"It was just a way of making sure everyone knew the most updated information," said Dr. David Weber, an infection disease expert at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. "People were familiar with the plan."

Swine flu symptoms and precautions

"At this time, it is important that North Carolinians continue to be vigilant and to take precautions," Perdue said.

Engel recommended good hand hygiene – washing in soap, covering coughs and sneezes – and staying at home to prevent the spread of germs to others. Using hand sanitizer is a good alternative if you can't wash, he said, but "nothing beats soap and water for 10 to 15 seconds."

"To ward off any potential, just be prudent as you would during normal flu season," he said. "Just monitor your symptoms. If you get a flu-like illness, stay at home, stay away from school and work, and seek health care, if you have serious complications with the flu."

Serious complications include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, severe nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains and chest pains, he said.

Earlier Monday, President Barack Obama said the threat of spreading swine flu infections is matter of concern but "not a cause for alarm."

Federal officials urged precaution and warned that people should be prepared for the problem to become more severe and involve "possibly deaths."

American authorities were undertaking "passive screening" at its borders, asking people about fever and illness, looking for people who are ill.

Back in North Carolina, Engel advised North Carolina residents to postpone travel to Mexico. "I think it's prudent to postpone," he said.

Raleigh bus stations in Raleigh that provide direct daily routes to Mexico, were distributing hand sanitizers and face masks to drivers and passengers, as a precaution. Bus crews were also ordered to clean buses better than usual.


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