Lt. Gov Dubie outlines state’s plans to deal with swine flu

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(Host) Vermont has sufficient stockpiles of anti-flu medication and is ready with a coordinated response if a swine flu outbreak spreads to New England.

That was the word today as officials learned more about the state’s plans to deal with the disease.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie chairs the governor’s Homeland Security Advisory Council. The group represents local, state and federal officials and it’s designed to coordinate response to terrorism and other threats.

So at the governor’s request, Dubie called a meeting of the council for a briefing on the state’s response to the swine flu outbreak. Legislative leaders sat in on the conference call.

Franklin Senator Sara Kittell chairs the Agriculture Committee. But she’s also a school nurse; and she wanted to know how nurses like her should check if students have the swine flu.

(Kittell) "Are you taking a throat culture, what kind of specimen are you taking and testing for the swine flu?"

(Dillon) Health Commissioner Doctor Wendy Davis said that because of the potential health risk, the samples should be collected at a hospital or a doctor’s office.

(Davis) "What we’re asking school nurses to do is to be available for students and families of students who identify that a student may be ill but then connecting those students with a health care provider or an appropriate  hospital setting, so this can be done in the safest manner possible."

(Dillon) What about a vaccine? Kittell asked. How quickly can health officials immunize the vulnerable population?

(Davis) "Unfortunately, in this situation, we do not have a swine influenza vaccine that is readily available for anyone in the country. And it’s not just us. But what we do have is the stockpile of anti-viral medications for treatment."

(Dillon) No Vermonter has yet come down with the flu. But the worst case scenario, according to Davis, is that 25 percent of the state’s population gets sick.

Lieutenant Governor Dubie wanted to know how officials on the U.S-Canadian border were dealing with the threat. On the call was Newport police Chief Paul Duquette. He planned to meet with his counterparts in Quebec on the issue.

(Duquette) And this afternoon actually we have an international border communicable disease response planning meeting in Newport here.

(Dillon) Dubie said that kind of information-sharing is what the homeland security advisory council was designed to accomplish.

(Dubie) "Chief Duquette is also the past president of Vermont police chiefs. He lives in a border town. That’s a perfect example of someone who is really thinking about these border issues as it relates to a public health questions."

(Dillon) Dubie also works as an airline pilot, and he told the council that he recently found himself on the front line of the swine flu prevention effort.

(Dubie) "As an airline captain, I was given guidance that said if I detected flu like symptoms on my passengers I was supposed to make sure they didn’t get on the airplane, which is a little problematic from the reality standpoint.  I said yeah, right, I’m going to interview 150 people…"

(Dillon)  But officials are checking to see if students and other groups who have traveled to Mexico have brought the disease home to Vermont.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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