By Hayley Kappes
Killeen Daily Herald
The World Health Organization declared the current swine flu outbreak a pandemic Thursday, making it the first global flu epidemic in 41 years.
WHO made the announcement Thursday after the United Nations held an emergency meeting with flu experts.
As of Thursday, there were 14 confirmed swine flu cases in Bell County and one confirmed case in Coryell County.
WHO will now ask drugmakers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine, which it said would become available after September.
The U.S. government has already increased the availability of flu-fighting medicines and authorized $1 billion for the development of a new swine flu vaccine.
WHO said 74 countries had reported 28,774 cases of swine flu, including 144 deaths.
The agency stressed that most cases are mild and require no treatment.
Jack Collier, Harker Heights fire chief, said the city's emergency medical services have had procedures in place to handle swine flu cases for several months.
Bell County's 911 communication center informs the responding EMS crew if they are dispatched to handle a possible flu case. EMS personnel are equipped with masks and gloves to prevent the spread of germs.
Collier said there is procedure in place to disenfect ambulances that carry a potential H1N1 influenza patient.
"Most of the cases in the U.S. are of a non-severe nature, and people do quite well," Collier said. "If they do have severe spikes in fever and underlying health issues, those are the ones who need to get to the hospital."
Collier said it is concerning that swine flu has not gone away, since the typical flu season is over in the United States once the weather warms up.
The Bell County Public Health District urges people to remain at home if they have a fever in order to prevent spreading illness.
Collier said people should refrain from panic in light of swine flu's pandemic designation and practice preventive measures.
"It's not going away any time soon, but there's no need for the public to panic," Collier said. "Most all the cases we've had are relatively mild."
Contact Hayley Kappes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.