St. Luke’s staff on alert for swine flu

Published 3:03 pm Friday, May 1, 2009

St. Luke&squo;s Hospital in Columbus says its staff remains ready and on alert for swine flu. A planning meeting held Wednesday included staff from the Emergency Department, Respiratory Therapy, Infection Prevention, Employee Health, the Pharmacy and Lab, Environmental Services, Facilities and Materials Management, Biomedical and a Hospitalist.

Discussion centered on protocols to follow, testing and reporting, patient flow, isolation capabilities and air infiltration, supplies and extra medicines on order in case this outbreak reached pandemic proportions.

&uot;We are actively participating in CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) efforts to detect and report infections and are coordinating with doctors and health providers across the state,&uot; said Lori Oliver, RN, Nurse Manager of St. Luke&squo;s Emergency Deparment. Oliver as St. Luke&squo;s Disaster Coordinator is working closely with Helen Blomely, RN, Infection Preventionist, to ensure CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) protocols are followed and up-to-date information is available throughout the hospital.

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At presstime Thursday, nine countries had reported 148 cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 infections. The U.S. had 109 cases in 10 states, with one death. Ten confirmed cases were in South Carolina.

In Mexico, where the global outbreak of this strain originated, health officials suspect the swine flu has caused at least 159 deaths and about 2,500 illnesses, with 26 confirmed cases and one death.

In order to have the latest information, please go to and click on the link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As health officials work furiously to gain more information on a virus that has no vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday raised its pandemic alert to 5, the second highest level. According to WHO&squo;s website ( that decision means all countries should immediately activate pandemic preparedness plans.

A pandemic outbreak is defined as a new or novel virus to which everybody is susceptible; it spreads rapidly from person to person; and it has the capability of causing signficant disease.

CDC&squo;s emergency response is intended to reduce the transmission and illness severity and provide information to healthcare providers to address challenges posed by the new virus. Because people have no natural immunity to swine flu, it is harder to treat or fight; as it continues to spread, more reported illnesses, more hospitalizations and more deaths are expected.

The swine flu is not caused by eating pork. Much like seasonal flu, swine flu causes fever, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomitting and diarrhea. Complications can include pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.

While common seasonal flu causes between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths every year worldwide, there is a vaccine for seasonal flu.There is no vaccine available to fight swine flu, but some medicines such as Tamiflu and Relenza may be effective if taken in the early stages of infection.

To help prevent the spread of infection, officials with WHO and the CDC recommend to postpone foreign travel; stay home from school or work if you get sick to limit contact with others; cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then throw the tissue in the trash; wash hands often with soap and water, especially after you sneeze or cough; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to prevent the spread of germs. Hand sanitizer gel is also effective in place of handwashing.

Oliver also recommends people follow the &dquo;6 Foot Rule. Simply stay 6 feet away from anyone with whom you come in contact. Also, sneeze into the bend of your arm, not your hand. Another preventive action is to refrain from shaking hands,&dquo; Oliver advises.

St. Luke&squo;s Hospital urges patients to request that visitors wash or sanitize their hands. It&squo;s important, too, that people refrain from visiting the hospital if they have cold or flu symptoms.

For more information, please go to and click on the link to the CDC.