Swine flu concerns hit valley

A swine flu outbreak has sent jitters through local travelers and others who wonder if that tickle in their throats could turn into something worse.

"It does make people nervous, and they do panic a bit," said Dr. Cory Bergey, director of the emergency department at Providence Medford Medical Center.

She said Providence's emergency room has been receiving calls from local residents, primarily the elderly, concerned they might have swine flu.

No reports of swine flu have popped up in Oregon, but California and other states have reported about 48 cases so far. Mexico, which is a popular destination for local travelers, has been the hardest-hit country, with a strain of the virus that is suspected of killing 149 and sickening nearly 2,000. All the deaths so far have been in Mexico.

Jackson County health officials said Thursday that Western states will beef up surveillance for influenza-like illness among those traveling to San Diego and Imperial County in Southern California and San Antonio, Texas. In addition, officials will be looking out for those who have visited Mexico or who have come in contact with swine.

Those who are particularly concerned about their health condition should contact their doctor, Bergey recommends.

Most people who have flu-like symptoms should stay home, get plenty of rest, drink lots of water and take an acetaminophen or aspirin to relieve symptoms. She said this year has been a particularly mild season for the flu overall.

She said the majority of people who have gotten sick with swine flu have recovered.

"We are still estimating the vast majority of people who are infected will do fine," she said.

In case of a local outbreak, Bergey said her hospital is prepared to call in extra staff and work with county health officials in emergency situations.

The hospital has special rooms that isolate patients with respiratory infections. Anyone who comes to the hospital with a cough must wear a mask.

Debra Hurst, a registered nurse and infection preventionist at Rogue Valley Medical Center, stated in an e-mail that the hospital had received several calls from people worried about the swine flu.

Others came into the emergency room concerned they might have the flu. So far, the hospital has not seen any increase in patients with the flu or flu-like symptoms, Hurst stated.

The swine flu is weighing on the minds of many travelers, particularly with the honeymoon season fast approaching.

"A lot of people are putting a big panic button on it," said Shana Brewer, manager of Travel Leaders-Travel Made Easy in Medford.

So far, Brewer said no one has canceled a reservation, though there is some apprehension and concern about Mexico.

Late Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico.

Some airlines are offering free flight changes because of the uncertainty, but Brewer suggests consulting with a travel agency or airline for more information.

News of the swine flu outbreak in Mexico couldn't have come at a worse time for that country, which has also seen a rise in violence, said Brewer.

"We just had that whole thing with the gang-related violence and now this," she said.

Sandra Slattery, executive director of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, said a delegation from Ashland is planning to head to Guanajuato, Mexico, at the end of August for the 40th anniversary of their sister-city relationship.

She said the preparations are continuing despite the swine-flu outbreak, which hasn't affected Guanajuato, though it has been recorded in Mexico City, some 200 miles away.

"I think everybody is in a wait-and-see attitude," said Slattery. "Everybody is hoping and praying that they get this under control."

Dave Rasmussen, owner of Jackson Travel, said that so far he hasn't received calls from clients who are thinking about changing their travel plans.

"I'm sure that's all going to change today or tomorrow," he said. "This is something we will definitely be looking at often."

Airline companies are on heightened alert, he said, looking for passengers who might have contracted the flu.

Rasmussen said many local Christian groups are going to Mexico on missions this summer, and they are monitoring the situation.

"This is just changing drastically by the hour," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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