STATE—The Department of Health and Senior Services opened a toll-free, 24-hour hotline today to answer questions about swine flu from the general public and New Jersey health care providers.
The hotline number is 1-866-321-9571 and is open as of today.
“We understand that New Jersey residents are concerned about the outbreak of swine flu and will have many questions on how they can protect themselves and their family,” said Commissioner Heather Howard. “The situation will continue to evolve and the department is offering the call center for the general public and health care providers.”
“There is good information on our website (nj.gov/health) regarding swine flu and we recommend that people take the time to review that information. But for those people who have questions, we have opened up an information line.”
The department identified two additional probable cases of swine flu in New Jersey residents and is sending the samples to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for confirmatory testing.
On Monday, New Jersey had identified five probable cases of swine flu and is waiting for confirmatory test results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
All seven of these individuals have mild forms of the flu and are recovering at home. None were hospitalized. The patients include residents from various counties throughout New Jersey.
The Department expects confirmatory results on the first five probable cases from the CDC in the next day.
There are 91 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States, with 51 in New York City, 16 in Texas, 14 in California, two each in Kansas, Massachusetts and Michigan, and one each in Arizona, Indiana, Ohio and Nevada. The first swine flu-related death was reported today in Texas. A 23-month-old Mexican child who was visiting relatives in Brownsville, Texas died at a Houston hospital.
“We expect to see more cases, more hospitalizations, and, unfortunately, we are likely to see more deaths from the outbreak,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters on her first day at work following Senate confirmation Tuesday.
New Jersey continues to take steps to prepare if the outbreak widens. The department of health enhanced its surveillance activities to identify potential cases of swine flu, particularly in individuals who have traveled to infected areas in California and Mexico or have had contact with those who have traveled.
The state received 300,000 courses of antiviral medications including Tamiflu from the Strategic National Stockpile to add to its 800,000 courses previously purchased. Tamiflu is a medication available by prescription through physicians and is effective in reducing the symptoms and length of influenza if taken within 48 hours of developing symptoms.
“We cannot emphasize enough that there are effective methods of prevention that everyone should continue to follow,” said Howard. “Good hygiene habits such as washing your hands frequently and thoroughly will greatly reduce the chance of getting sick. Also, people should be covering coughs and sneezes. Most important, if you are sick, stay home from work or school.”
Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses that causes regular outbreaks in pigs. People do not normally get swine flu, but human infections can and do happen.
The symptoms of swine flu in people are similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.
Under pressure from the agricultural industry, federal officials are trying to get the public to refer to the disease as H1N1 virus.
“This really isn’t swine flu. It’s H1N1 virus,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at an afternoon news briefing with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
According to scientists at USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swine flu viruses are not transmitted by food so you cannot get swine flu from eating pork or pork products, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Eating properly handled and cooked pork or pork products is safe. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills all viruses and other foodborne pathogens.”
Vilsack said the USDA has in place, and did so before the last week’s events, a surveillance system to monitor animal health. “As an additional precautionary measure, I have asked USDA to reach out to agriculture officials in every state to affirm that they have no signs of this virus type in their state,” he added.