By Hayley Kappes
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – Bell County health officials are spreading the word on the H1N1 influenza (swine flu) epidemic, preparing residents for likely area outbreaks.
DonnaLee Pollack, registered epidemiology nurse for Bell County's Public Health District, said at Monday's commissioners court meeting that the county has no confirmed cases, but Bell is not immune from the virus.
"We don't have all the data yet, but it is transferred the same as seasonal flu," Pollack said. "What makes it serious is that we have not been exposed to it like we have the regular, seasonal flu."
One of the strongest weapons in the health defense arsenal is education, said Public Health District Director Wayne Farrell.
"This has been a dynamic disease," Farrell said. "Labs have been inundated with demand for tests. By the time we get any test results, the disease will have run its course."
Farrell said precautionary measures such as the University Interscholastic League's cancellation of statewide regional track championships and academic meets last week allowed the Center for Disease Control and the Department of State Health Services time to learn more about the virus' structure and develop a vaccine.
"People from different communities across the state would have potentially spread swine flu among others at those meets, before they even knew they had the disease," Commissioner Richard Cortese said.
Bell County's Public Health District has a limited supply of anti-virals, which are only administered for patients diagnosed with the flu.
Once a vaccine has been developed for swine flu, the federal government will distribute it to states for dissemination, or the state will issue them directly.
Cathy Brem, public health preparedness training coordinator for the Public Health District, said the median age for comfirmed cases of swine flu patients in the United States is 17, and 62 percent of confirmed cases are males.
The county is prepared, but officials want to prevent widespread panic from misinformation.
"It is dangerous, but probably not any more dangerous than the common flu in any given year," Cortese said.
Brem confirmed Cortese's statement.
Brem said the best defense against swine flu is to wash hands often, cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, stay home when sick, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth and avoid contact with sick people.
Contact Hayley Kappes at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559.
Bell County Commissioners Court action
The following were unanimously approved by the court:
The annual audit report for fiscal year 2008.
Bell County Auditor's Office received the Government Finance Officers Association Award for the county's comprehensive annual financial report. This marked the 28th year in a row the auditor's office received the award.
County Auditor Donna Eakin was authorized to advertise for proposal requests for employee dental insurance.
HELP Centers Director Judy Morales and staff accepted the Agency of the Year award from United Way of Central Texas.
Pat Patterson, of Temple, was appointed to the board of the Tax Appraisal District of Bell County.
George L. Luck, of Temple, was appointed to the Central Counties Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board.
Lorin Evelyn Halstead, of Belton, was appointed to the county's Child Welfare Board.
A certificate of appreciation to Bill Holmes, of Belton, for his service on the board of the county's tax appraisal district.
For more information
Call the Bell County Public Health District at (254) 773-4457. The Center for Disease Control Web site, www.cdc.gov/swineflu, has up-to-date information on the current pandemic.