Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 18
 
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
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Health Department Prepared for Swine Flu

Dilshanie Perera

Six cases of H1N1 influenza, or swine flu, have been confirmed in the state of New Jersey; however, to date no cases have been identified in either the Princetons or in Mercer County.

At last Tuesday’s Borough meeting, Council President Andrew Koontz relayed a message from the Princeton Regional Health Department, saying there was “no need for undue alarm.” He added that the department has “been on high alert since the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] declared a public health emergency on Sunday,” and that “the state, county, and municipalities are taking steps to monitor the outbreak.”

Princeton Health Officer David Henry, who is the head of the Health Department, said in a phone interview that he and his staff “have been operating 24/7” ever since the swine flu pandemic was announced. “My cell phone is always on, and my Blackberry is getting the latest updates from the state,” he remarked.

As for the likelihood of swine flu coming to the Princetons, Mr. Henry noted that “the risk is always there,” but underscored that the Health Department and state are ready to address the appearance of the disease.

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve worked on a pandemic flu plan, and now we’re utilizing it as a preparation guide,” Mr. Henry elaborated, saying that in 2005 the federal government gave grant money to states for pandemic flu planning and working on emergency response protocol.

The Health Department has already implemented a communications plan to stay in close contact with local public and private schools, both mayors, the health commission, Princeton University, and the hospital. Information on swine flu can be found on the Borough and Township websites, in the Public Library, and at both municipal town halls.

Mr. Henry said that the state has “a million courses of the [swine flu] antiviral on hand,” and in the event of an emergency, the state could rapidly distribute its supply.

“Our emphasis would be on encouraging those who may be ill to seek out physicians,” he recommended.

Standard hygienic practices should be followed, including: covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, washing hands frequently with soap and warm water, avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and avoiding close contact (“six feet or so”) with those who may be sick.

“One of the keys is making sure we can quickly communicate through the community and businesses,” Mr. Henry said.

Related Events

The Woodrow Wilson School (WWS) on the Princeton University campus is hosting a panel discussion, “The Swine Flu Outbreak: Can a Pandemic be Prevented?” today, Wednesday, May 6 at 4:30 p.m. in Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Panelists include: Adel Mahmoud, M.D., senior policy analyst and professor in the WWS and the Department of Molecular Biology, and former president of Merck Vaccines; Laura Kahn, M.D., research scholar at the WWS’s Program on Science and Global Security; and Lynn Enquist, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Professor at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

Mercer County will be testing its emergency readiness with a drive-through drill in Hopewell from noon to 2 p.m. on Thursday, May 7. While the training drill was planned before the outbreak of swine flu, County Executive Brian Hughes noted that the drill “will better prepare Mercer County and its residents in case of any crisis affecting public health.”

The drill will set up a mock scenario to simulate the mass distribution of vaccinations or pills to resemble a real emergency. Residents are needed to volunteer to drive through the distribution center at the Hopewell Township Municipal Complex at 201 Washington Crossing–Pennington Road. The process should only take a few minutes, and participants do not need to exit their vehicles.

Residents who participate in the drill will receive coupons to local stores and restaurants. To participate, or for more information, call (609) 737-0120 ext. 657. Details will also be posted online at www.hopewelltwp.org.

Anyone interested in volunteering to work at the drill may call Health Officer Gary Guarino at (609) 737-0120 ext. 653 or write to him at gguarino@hopewelltwp.org.

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