Swine Flu Has D.C. Area Hospitals and Governments Preparing

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 27, 2009

Washington area governments and hospitals have started preparing for a potential outbreak of swine flu after 20 cases were reported around the country.

The D.C. Department of Health posted swine flu updates on the city's Web site.

Children's National Medical Center monitored swine flu reports from the health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and posted a fact sheet about the illness on its site.

And like many hospital administrators in the D.C. area, the chief of infectious diseases at Howard University Hospital informed section directors of an emergency meeting today to discuss swine flu and guidelines on caring for anyone who might visit the hospital with flulike symptoms.

There were no reports yesterday of people suffering from swine flu in the D.C. area, according to Dena Iverson, a spokeswoman for the District's health department. After a deadly swine flu outbreak in Mexico, officials are concerned that college students who traveled there for spring break, and other vacationers, might fall ill.

"Anyone coming from Mexico, we will have a protocol on what we should do to treat that person," said Vinod Mody, a professor of medicine and chief of the infectious disease division at Howard University Hospital.

Mody said if the disease spread here, residents would be urged to avoid movie theaters, promoters would be asked to cancel concerts and hospitals would distribute masks in places such as the Metro.

"I don't think we will get to that point," Mody said, noting the United States is better prepared than Mexico. "We have extra beds. Our hospitals could find 50 extra beds if needed."

At Children's Hospital, officials cautioned parents to closely monitor their children and to be meticulous about cleanliness.

"Flu viruses can spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or direct contact (touching a contaminated surface and then touching your own eyes or nose)," Paula Darte, a hospital spokeswoman, said in a statement. "The best way to prevent the spread of any kind of flu is to clean your hands with soap and hot water or with waterless hand gel if you are in contact with someone who is sneezing or coughing."

In Fairfax, Inova Fairfax Hospital also monitored the illness, said spokesman Che Parker. "We're currently working with the health department and other authorities and monitoring the situation as it develops," he said. "We're also evaluating our clinical guidelines and responses and preparing to use them as needed."

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