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Central Coast Readies for Swine Flu

By Krista Almanzan

Monterey Bay Area – Monterey County is home to one of the 24 labs in the state that can screen for Swine Flu. Any suspected cases are passed on to the State Lab for confirmation. So far, the lab has tested an estimated 100 samples from locals with flu-like symptoms, and all have come back negative.

Monterey County Health Officer Dr. Hugh Stallworth has been monitoring the confirmed cases as the numbers grow across the nation and ever closer to the Central Coast. "It's not as efficient as what we see in regular flu season. We've been monitoring cases in the United States for almost a week now. And all we have at this point is a little less than 100 cases. If this was just seasonal flu, we would've seen many more cases than that because it would've spread more rapidly," said Dr. Stallworth. Still he's not ruling out that Swine Flu could arrive in Monterey County. He says plans are in place and staff is on stand-by to respond.

In Santa Cruz County, health officials believe it's not a matter of if, but when Swine Flu will turn up. The County's Health Services Agency has set up an Operations Center for Swine Flu. In response to the growing outbreak, it's now staffed twelve hours a day, seven days a week. "We are intensely planning, thinking ahead. What do we have to have in place? What if all our hospitals are full to capacity? What if people have no caregivers? That's our responsibility. We have to figure out the solutions," said County Health Officer Dr. Poki Namkung.

Samples from Santa Cruz County are being tested in Santa Clara County. So far, none have come back positive for Swine Flu. But when one does, Dr. Namkung says this office will be staffed 24-7. This level of readiness is already stretching her agency's tight budget. She's hoping President Barack Obama will come through with a federal declaration of emergency. That would reimburse the county for its response to the outbreak. "I personally say, if they can bail out the banks, they can certainly help the public health infrastructure in this country to deal with this epidemic. And frankly, in many ways were just as important in sustaining the economy of this country. We have to stop the transmission. We have to slow it down and reduce its spread," said Dr. Namkung.

Back in Monterey County, Dr. Stallworth says his department doesn't need a bail out, but he does need the public's help. One thing health officials across the state can't stress enough are the few things everyone can do to reduce the spread of Swine Flu and they don't cost a dime. "We're asking them to cover their cough, cover their sneeze and wash their hands," said Dr. Stallworth.

The California Department of Public Health has set up a Swine Flu information hotline. The number is 1-888-865-0654. The hotline's hours are Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.