May 5, 2009 — There are no cases of the H1N1 influenza virus in the Virgin Islands.
Should the virus, commonly known as swine flu, break out here, the territory is fully prepared to deal with it, according to acting Health Commissioner Julia Sheen, and several other local and federal agencies at a press conference at the Benjamin Auditorium at the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute on St. Thomas Tuesday afternoon.
Sheen, speaking from St. Croix at the video conference, said the department has received anti-viral medication from the Centers for Disease Control, along with diagnostic test kits, should the virus hit the territory.
The swine flu virus has spread to 36 states and infected at least 286 people, but the outbreak at this point appears to be milder than initially feared, according to a report in the Washington Post.
Sheen said the territory is working with federal and local partners in getting the information out about the virus. "We meet daily," she said, "and we are running daily public service announcements on the radio talk shows. The department is working with health-care providers to identify any potential cases of influenza, and we have increased surveillance at our hospitals, health centers and our borders."
Elizabeth Harris, Schneider Regional Medical Center acting chief executive officer, Mark Walters, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, and Charlotte White-Hewitt, SRMC infection control director, attended the conference on St. Thomas.
Speaking from St. Croix, Dr. Richard Olans, territorial director of infectious diseases, said there are three rules everyone should observe, he said.
1. Cover your face when coughing, or cough into a sleeve.
2. Wash hands regularly, or use a hand sanitizer.
3. If you are sick, stay home.
Olans emphasized this last precaution. "You don't want to expose others to your symptoms. If you are a student and return to school, see the school nurse before entering classrooms."
This particular flu strain, Olans said, "is no more virulent than any other in the past, but it is prudent to monitor it closely."
Walters said his agency is taking extra measures to counteract any infected person entering the territory. "We have added another layer of surveillance," he said. "We are working with the Port Authority and with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Tourism greeters."
The federal Customs and Border Patrol is conducting business as usual, however, symptomatic passengers will be separated from other passengers and provided with personal protective equipment like a mask and gloves, and local emergency medical staff will be notified to come to the site.
Though Mexico is reporting a decline in cases of the virus, two deaths were reported in the U.S. Tuesday.
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