Local agencies join together, create swine flu task force

Before it's had a chance to go over the mountains, Moffat County officials want to be prepared for the H1N1 flu virus, commonly known as swine flu.

With an eye toward caution, eight local agencies and one state official took the first step toward readying the community for one or more cases of the virus now concerning federal health officials and countries across the world.

After a meeting Monday organized by Tom Soos, Moffat County emergency management coordinator, the group formed the Moffat County H1N1 Task Force. Its members are:

• Moffat County

• Moffat County School District

• Craig Parks and Recreation Department

• Colorado Northwestern Community College

• Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association

• The Memorial Hospital

• Boys & Girls Club of Craig

• Moffat County Office of Emergency Management

• Colorado Division of Emergency Management

The Task Force's main goals are to provide consistent, accurate information to the public and slow the virus' spread.

Its members agreed they would meet within an hour of finding a "probable" case of swine flu within the community. From there, they will decide whether to close one or more schools if a student is involved.

If a school closes for H1N1 infection, the Boys & Girls Club and city parks and recreation department also would close their programs.

Their plan differs from Routt County, which expects to close all schools in the county if one student becomes infected.

Local officials stressed the community should not panic about the virus.

It's not yet "even a probability," Moffat County Commissioner Tom Gray said about the virus coming to Craig, but it is a possibility, and it's never too early to plan.

There were six confirmed cases of the virus in Colorado as of Monday afternoon, but all of them are on the Front Range or the Eastern Plains.

"As far as we know, there is none here or nearby," Soos said.

However, that is not likely to hold true forever, said Beka Warren, TMH chief quality officer.

"They expect it to be everywhere," she said. "It's not in Wyoming, but it's all around us."

The virus is not usually much more lethal than other strains of the flu, but it does have several differences with more common varieties that make it concerning, said Warren and Chuck Vale, state Division of Emergency Management regional field manager.

For starters, H1N1 mutates very fast, Warren said, which is a big reason why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has acted so swiftly.

The CDC's goal, which the task force shares, is to slow the spread of the virus long enough for officials to develop a vaccine that covers most of the existing strains, Warren said. The more the virus moves, the more it will mutate, and the harder it will be for any vaccine to be effective.

The virus also is entirely new, Vale said, and that makes for nervous doctors, who still don't know why the virus seems more dangerous for young, healthy people than for senior citizens.

"We don't know anything about it, and what we do know is all bad," he said.

Since H1N1 is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics, which treat bacterial infections, Warren said, adding it is not yet known whether common antiviral medications such as Tamiflu are always effective.

Most of the virus' symptoms are consistent with other flu types, such as coughing, body aches and headaches. However, it is notable for causing high fevers, which sometimes trigger vomiting and diarrhea, Warren said.

"High fever is the cardinal sign," she said.

Officials do not know how long an affected person remains contagious, but they do think the virus stays dormant for up to seven days before a person experiences symptoms, Warren said. People likely are contagious during that time, which could make it hard to isolate the virus if there ever is a case in Moffat County.

Cole White, VNA operations director, said there are easy ways for people to keep themselves safe from the virus.

"Wash your stinking hands, and keep your fingers out of your eyes, ears, nose and other body parts," he said. "If you are a place of businesses, disinfect. Use spray disinfectants on keyboards, doorknobs, counters."

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