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October 25, 2014

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PUBLIC HEALTH:

A peek at the work of the swine flu monitors

First at daily meeting, information is shared; after that, we’re really not sure

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Sam Morris

Southern Nevada health officials, including doctors, public health nurses and epidemiologists, meet to hear the status of the outbreak.

CDC experts discuss swine flu

CDC experts talk about the swine flu.

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It’s time for their morning briefing, in a conference room framed by cheap wooden bookcases filled with books, thick binders and DVDs with names like “How to Disinfect Children.”

The topic of the day — indeed, the topic all week long — is the swine flu outbreak. Similar meetings are being conducted by public health authorities across the country.

The meeting at the Southern Nevada Health District is supposed to start at 8:30 a.m. but will start a few minutes late as the dozen participants — doctors, public health nurses, epidemiologists, public information specialists — stroll in, carrying their coffee in travel mugs and remarking on the death of entertainer Danny Gans.

Then they settle down, gathered around six tables arranged in a circle. Everyone knows the drill when there’s a public health concern, such as last year’s hepatitis C outbreak. Daily briefings.

Dr. Lawrence Sands, the chief health officer, asks for the latest swine flu data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The mood is relaxed as senior epidemiologist Brian Labus gives the morning update: There are no new swine flu cases in Nevada to report — just the previously reported one in Reno — although the disease has been found in 19 states, including neighboring Arizona and California.

The World Health Organization hadn’t added to the list of 11 countries where the disease has been found.

That’s good news, Labus says.

The bad news is that 32 more cases had been confirmed across the country.

The World Health Organization refers to this particular strain of the disease as H1N1, its scientific name, which brings up a short discussion of what to call the flu.

Jennifer Sizemore, the public information manager, says she will continue referring to it in her news releases and announcements as swine flu. People get it, she says.

“It would be too confusing,” she says about referring to it as H1N1 as she shuffles through paperwork.

There are updates on travel advisories and reminders to staffers to keep in touch with the school district and the hotels.

“We’ll stay in contact with everyone,” Sands says.

They discuss making sure phone calls get routed to the correct departments. Some questions need to go to the nursing office; others, to labs.

The health district has been swarmed with calls about where to find surgical masks, says Bonnie Sorenson, clinics and nursing director. They’re not necessary, she says.

Sands tells the staff what the public has been told all week.

“We are not doing anything different from what we would with the seasonal flu,” he says.

The discussion then turns to detailed plans on how to respond if the region is hit with a swine flu outbreak.

Because the discussion would turn to brainstorming over different scenarios and options, I am asked to leave. No need, officials say, to unnecessarily startle the public by what I might hear and report.

Another meeting would be conducted Monday morning.

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