H1N1 Flu Arrives in Downey with Limited Impact

Last week the country and the media waited and watched to see if the H1N1 flu virus would spread and create havoc with our families and commerce or simply run its course as many seasonal flu viruses do each year. Locally, community responders and administrators were talking on a regular basis, considering many 'what if' scenarios and sharing prevention messages with their crews, colleagues, students and residents. Everyone involved was sincerely concerned for the welfare of those affected and hoped for a quick end to the expanding incident as the weekend approached.On Thursday and again on Friday, the message from the medical community was the H1N1 virus was not as virulent as had been first thought. Medical officials were saying the H1N1 virus was very similar to that of a seasonal flu virus. The methods of transmission were appearing more predictable as well. The experts advised the primary routes of spread were air borne droplets of the virus transferred by coughing / sneezing or elements of the virus left on public surfaces, then touched by others and consequently ingested or spread by touching the eyes or rubbing the nose. Despite the outpouring of 'flu-prevention' information, cases of H1N1 flu continued to rise, although not dramatically. In many cases the flu-virus is passed from one person to another before the flu-symptoms overtake the virus carrier. The spread of the virus impacted many students and led to over 400 schools closures across the country by concerned health and school administrators. Despite the preparedness and hopes of the entire community, a student from Old River Elementary School experienced 'flu-like' symptoms at the end of last week. The student was initially thought to have a typical case of the seasonal flu. However, testing was done and on Monday confirmation was given by a laboratory in Downey that the student had been infected with the H1N1 virus. By the time the test results were completed, the student was feeling much better. As of this writing, thankfully, the student has recovered and returned to school. There has been no word of any spread of the virus at the school since the initial reporting. The Los Angeles Department of Public Health (LACoPH) investigated the student illness and has not yet issued a determination on the source for the flu virus. The Downey Unified School District (DUSD) administration became aware of the illness late Friday evening and immediately contacted the responsible parties. They worked with the LACoPH officials to determine the best practices for the student and the school system. City officials were contacted and briefed. On Sunday, Old River School was sanitized by 16 DUSD staff members as a precautionary measure. The flu virus is known to live as long as 2-8 hours on a surface. However, the District elected to take the extra steps to increase the level of comfort for the returning students and faculty. A 'Connect Ed' message was sent out on Sunday advising the parents of Old River School students of the incident and of the actions taken since its discovery. Since the initial reports of the H1N1 virus problem early last week, patients seeking treatment at Downey Regional Medical Center (DRMC) and from the Downey Fire Department remained at a seasonal level. City emergency and DRMC workers followed the recommended protocols of: •frequent hand washing (with soap or hand sanitizer), especially before eating •not touching the face, eyes, or nose with unwashed hands •taking care to sneeze or cough into tissue and then disposing the tissue into a trash can •staying back at least 3-6 feet from people who are sneezing or coughing if possible •staying home if they felt ill with flu type symptoms until at least one day after the symptoms ceased •sanitizing 'shared' surfaces on a regular basis •visiting a private physician if flu symptoms persist • receiving an annual flu-shot in the fall months each year. On Monday, representatives from the city emergency staff and DUSD again communicated about the current status of the H1N1 problem in the City. Certain communication center protocols were implemented by the Fire Department (at the direction of the LACoPH) to improve the flow of information for public health officials and for emergency responders. On Tuesday, DRMC was again contacted for a status update. DRMC operations were reportedly normal at that time. Presently, there is only speculation as to the life span of the H1N1 virus. Some have forecasted the virus may return next flu season as a more virulent strain. Regardless of what occurs in the next several months with the virus (or a possible mutation of it), following the standard pre-cautions listed above are the best means to reduce everyone's risk of contracting a flu virus and subsequently becoming ill. The websites for the Centers for Disease Control and the LA County Public Health Department continue to provide timely information and prevention messages.

********** Published: May 8, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 3