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Posted April 29, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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No reports of disease in Va. but officials prepare

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By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- As of late Tuesday, there were no cases of swine flu reported in Virginia.

But state and local health officials are getting ready, just in case.

State officials have prepared Virginia's 770,000 courses of anti-viral medication, and are preparing to receive another 280,000 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There's no concrete bunker in Winchester stocked with anti-viral medications, said Dr. Stephen A. Haering, the director of the Lord Fairfax Health District.

Officials from the CDC down to local doctors are all dealing with the same problem: It's too soon to know very much about the virus, how it easily it spreads or just how serious the average case becomes.

Mexican officials have reported that more than 100 people have died from the virus. That's a scary number, but health officials don't yet have a good handle on how many people contracted the virus.

About 6,000 cases have been reported in Mexico, but those are only people who sought out medical treatment. Officials don't know how many people became ill but never reported it.

"We don't know an exact case fatality rate on this. We do have an idea of the deaths," Haering said. "The virulence is kind of uncertain."

Worry is understandable with so many unknowns, but people should "focus on those things over which we have control. One is the recognition is that it's a treatable virus," he said.

"If someone becomes sick, there's good solid treatment," he said. "Wash your hands, isolate people who are sick to their homes."

Even now, flu-like symptoms don't necessarily mean swine flu, according to Dr. Mark Galbraith, of Selma Medical Associates in Winchester.

Seasonal influenza peaked in the U.S. in February, but "there's always a background few cases. You can see influenza in the summer," he said.

Preparedness at the moment should be watchful waiting.

"Families should really just stay tuned," Haering said. "Do the things that they do normally to keep them healthy."

The professionals' advice includes don't eat junk food, exercise and get plenty of rest.

"When we get run down we get more susceptible to infections," Haering said.

If someone does come down with flu-like symptoms -- a fever, coughing, headache, muscle aches -- see a doctor as soon as possible.

But call ahead, Haering said. Physicians will want to know a possible case of the flu is coming.

"Don't just show up, so you're not just spreading it to everyone in the waiting room," he said.

Influenza caught early can be treated with anti-viral medications like Tamiflu and Relenza, shortening the misery for patients.

Businesses should dust off their contingency plans for keeping things going when a significant part of their work force is out sick, Haering said.

Above all, they should tell employees "if you're sick, then don't come to work," he said. "Call your doctor."

If the virus does appear locally, staying healthy requires the same precautions as during the annual flu season -- avoiding the virus-laden droplets from coughing, sneezing and nose blowing of infected people.

"Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands," he said.

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