Health Department changes response to swine flu

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(Host) Vermont health officials have significantly changed the way they respond to the swine flu outbreak.

The Health Department says in most cases, it’s no longer necessary to go to the doctor if you have the flu.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd has more.

(Sneyd) A turning point has been reached in the way public health officials deal with this new strain of the flu.

They no longer need to test people who come down with the flu to determine whether the strain has reached Vermont. With at least 14 confirmed cases, they know it’s here.

But Health Commissioner Wendy Davis says they also know that swine flu has turned out to be relatively mild, at least here.

(Davis) "We really need to begin to focus our resources on patients who may be hospitalized, patients who are more severely ill and in particular, in those categories, patients who have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for complications for the flu."

(Sneyd) That means people older than 65, those who have asthma or similar conditions, pregnant women and patients whose immune systems are otherwise compromised.

This new strain of swine flu virus showed up in Mexico late this spring and it raised concerns that the world could be on the verge of a pandemic.

But its spread has slowed around the world, even if more cases are showing up in places like Vermont that are farther away from where it was first diagnosed.

Davis says people still need to be vigilant, especially those most at risk for complications. But she says otherwise healthy people should treat this pretty much as a case of the seasonal flu.

(Davis) "We feel it just doesn’t make sense for those folks to be tested and treated. And we want to help people to understand that that’s really an OK thing to do, to stay at home, take care of their symptoms, follow the hygiene measures, but not feel compelled to be tested and or treated."

(Sneyd) Public health agencies elsewhere in the country have begun to follow the same protocol.

Doctor Chris Grace is head of infectious diseases at Fletcher Allen Health Care. He thinks the new approach is the right one.

(Grace) "Most people, healthy people who get this, will recover just fine and don’t need to get treatment for it. And the people that we would to know about, to test and potentially treat are those who may get more severe illness because of underlying illness."

(Sneyd) Doctors say this is all a balancing act. They don’t want people to worry, but they say, get a check-up if there’s any concern.

Still, they warn everyone that this strain of the flu is unpredictable and the alarm may be raised again this fall when flu season returns.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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