April 28, 2009

News Release

For Immediate Release

Health Department Outlines Swine Flu Surveillance

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department is working with community partners to increase surveillance in order to quickly identify a first case of swine flu, should one reach the Springfield area, health officials said at a Tuesday morning news conference.

“At this time we do not have any reported cases of swine flu in Springfield or southwest Missouri,” said Kevin Gipson, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, adding that most of the U.S. cases have been reported mainly in New York, California, Texas, Ohio, Texas, and Kansas. “We are closely monitoring the situation, and will continue to respond as we do with any public health issue – by increasing surveillance, identifying potential cases, testing and recommending treatment, if necessary.”

Gipson said anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should contact a care provider to ensure peace of mind. The public should be aware that normal seasonal flu is still lingering even though the peak season is over.

Greene County Associate Commissioner Harold Bengsch urged the public to remain calm because there are two antiviral medications that are effective with this virus. These medications can reduce the effects of the swine flu, even though they cannot prevent infection.

Gipson emphasized the need for the public to continue to follow proven disease-prevention practices such as good hand washing, keeping a distance from people who are ill and avoiding touching their own eyes, nose or mouth.

“Hand washing is one of the most effective disease-prevention methods,” Gipson said. “I can’t emphasize enough its importance in controlling the spread of any number of illnesses.”

He added that the Health Department will continue to work with the health-care community, school districts, emergency management and other partners and will keep the public informed about the evolving situation.

Mayor Jim O’Neal reiterated the fact that all agencies are consistently communicating on the swine flu and that local officials are prepared to deal with the worst-case scenario.

Gipson also said the health department would work with individuals planning to travel to Mexico or returning from Mexico to evaluate their situations. He said, for instance, that he has been consulting with Missouri State University to determine the best course for students who are currently in Mexico or planning trips to Mexico.

Also at Tuesday’s news conference, the Springfield Sister Cities Association announced the postponement of a delegation from Springfield’s sister city of Tlaquepaque, Mexico, who had planned to visit the area later this week.

The group was to include visiting city officials and a mariachi band. The mariachi had a number of public performances scheduled during its visit, including a public performance at the annual ArtsFiesta! even in downtown Springfield on Friday, May 1. ArtsFiesta! has been postponed, and event organizers are working to reschedule the event for later this summer.

“We are not acting out of fear, but from our mutual concern for the welfare and peace of mind of our friends in both cities,“ said SSCA spokesperson John Price.

Price also commented that the decision was made based on the closing of Mexican schools nationwide and wide-spread cancellations of other public events in Mexico; not wanting to create any possibilities of exposure for the visitors during air travel; and not wanting to disrupt the Tlaquepaque community officials responding to the outbreak.

For more information, contact: Springfield-Greene County Health Director Kevin Gipson, 864-1658; or for information about the Sister Cities visit, John Price, Springfield Sister Cities Association, 343-8205.

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Harold K. Bengsch Building

227 E. Chestnut Expwy. • Springfield, MO 65802
417-864-1658 • health.springfieldmo.gov