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Swine flu expected to arrive on Whidbey

Island County health officer Roger Case and U.S. Representative Rick Larsen discuss what swine flu could mean for Island County to a crowd at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, Saturday morning.  - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Island County health officer Roger Case and U.S. Representative Rick Larsen discuss what swine flu could mean for Island County to a crowd at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, Saturday morning.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

U.S. Representative Rick Larsen diverted time away from his speech on the president’s first 100 days in office Saturday, to report on swine flu and its possible implications for Island County.

The congressman called on county health officer Roger Case to give an account of the outbreak.

To a standing-room only crowd at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, Case said that with over 10 probable cases springing up across the state, he believes Oak Harbor will have a case of the virus as early as this week.

Swine flu, which has symptoms similar to the common flu bug, could’ve been in the area for the last month, yet was undiagnosed, Case added.

“I think I had it recently, and I stayed home for eight days,” Case said.

The number of probable cases in Washington grew to 25 on Saturday, or nine more cases than last Friday’s update.

However, Case cautioned the crowd not to be overly concerned. The cases in the U.S. are proving to be mild, and the number of confirmed cases and deaths dropped precipitously.

He even said “there is some consolation” in contracting the virus.

“In 1918, the first go-round of the swine flu virus wasn’t that bad. The second time, people were immune if they had it before, but there were problems for the people who hadn’t.” That flu plague killed 20 million across the globe.

Virologists initially swung into high alert over the virus due to its unusual origins, Case said. Swine flu is a reassortment of three types of virus strains which mixed together inside a pig, and no one can predict if it will mutate further.

Larsen summed up a recent Congress briefing about the government’s role in staving off the flu. Washington state is set to receive about 230,000 flu treatment drugs from the national stockpile, Larsen said. The drug Tamiflu is taken twice daily for two weeks, for people showing symptoms.

“The federal government’s goal is to save lives, slow the spread of the virus and show the community they are taking action,” Larsen said.

President Barack Obama requested about $1 billion to develop a vaccine, assist internationally and help local agencies.

The Center for Disease Control is developing the vaccine, which should take about six months. Case cautioned against Internet scams, which claim to cure the virus.

He also commented on the photos of people wearing masks in newspapers and television.

“Really, only sick people should wear masks, so that they don’t spread germs. If you’re not sick, it would make more sense to wear cotton gloves.”

One of the best courses of action, Larsen recalled from his briefing, is to take your mother’s advice: Cover your cough and sneeze into your sleeve.

For more information, they recommended people visit www.cdc.gov. or www.islandcounty.net/health.

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