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UPDATED: State checking out 2 'clusters' of local residents for swine flu

Local hospital, schools focus on preventative measures

Posted: April 27, 2009 10:06 p.m.
Updated: April 28, 2009 10:29 a.m.
Local institutions and residents said they have ramped up their precaution levels, even as the Obama administration said Monday it is responding aggressively to the swine flu as if the outbreak would spread into a full pandemic.

There are no confirmed patient cases of diagnosed swine flu at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, spokeswoman Laura Young said.

"Officials are implementing protective steps in case people who believe they are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to the flu begin coming to the emergency department," she said.

While there are no confirmed local cases of swine flu, the state is investigating two "clusters" of patients with influenza-like symptoms in Santa Clarita. Those test results are expected to come back later this week.

Young said the hospital is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interim guidelines to identify and care for patients with potential swine flu.

"Patients arriving at Henry Mayo with flu symptoms will be provided with a surgical mask and gloves," she said in an e-mailed statement. "The patient will be isolated until a laboratory-confirmed diagnosis of swine flu is made. Healthcare workers providing patient care will wear a mask and gloves."

Newhall Memorial's emergency department includes isolation rooms if necessary.

Local school districts are reminding students about the importance of practicing good hygiene.

"We want them to wash their hands often with soap and water," said Keith Karzin, director of safety and risk management for the Saugus Union School District.

"If they're sick, we don't want them coming to school."

Parents are encouraged to keep sick kids at home, he said.

Saugus Union has posters at all its school sites to remind students to keep their hands clean, he said.

The district plans to reinforce the message in its weekly bulletin sent to Saugus Union families.

Similar measures are in place at the William S. Hart Union High School District.

Hart district schools have hand-sanitizing stations for students to use throughout the day, spokeswoman Pat Willett said.

Additionally, students are advised to cover their hands and nose when they sneeze, stay away from people who are sick and stay home if they feel ill, she said.

"We haven't noticed any unusual absences here," Willett said.

Of the 40 U.S. cases, only one person has been hospitalized and all have recovered, said Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Mexico, more than 1,600 cases have been reported and the suspected death toll has climbed to 149. No deaths have been reported in the U.S.

President Barack Obama urged calm, saying there was reason for concern but not yet "a cause for alarm."

Many local residents didn't seem too worried over the 40 confirmed U.S. cases of swine flu on Monday, but they are taking some extra precaution.

"I'm not frightened - at least not until (officials) say stay in your house," said Kelli Fee, of Valencia.

However, Fee said she probably will cancel a June trip to Cabo San Lucas that she planned before the swine flu broke out.

Officials urged Americans against most travel to Mexico, as the virus that began there spreads to the United States and beyond.

United States officials also issued a new travel advisory suggesting, "nonessential travel to Mexico be avoided."

Holly Tichenor is somewhat worried because she often flies between California and Washington. She's making sure she gets enough sleep, eats right and drinks enough fluids.

Administration officials said that they unsure of the outbreak's severity or where it would show up next, and are waging a vigorous campaign of prevention.

U.S. customs officials began checking people entering U.S. territory. Millions of doses of flu-fighting medications from a federal stockpile were on their way to states, with priority given to the five states already affected and to states along the Mexican border.

"We want to make sure that we have equipment where it needs to be, people where they need to be and, most important, information shared at all levels," Janet Napolitano, head of the Homeland Security Department, told reporters.

"We are proceeding as if we are preparatory to a full pandemic," Napolitano said.

She said travel warnings for trips to Mexico would remain in place as long as swine flu is detected.

While there presently is no vaccine available to prevent the specific flu strain now being seen, there are anti-flu drugs that do work once someone is sick.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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