Topeka Hospitals Take Precautions against H1N1

The steady message from health officials for all of people when it comes to the H1N1 outbreak is to prepare, not panic.

So far, Topeka's Stormont-Vail and St. Francis say they are not seeing a rush of people who think they have symptoms, but they are taking the threat seriously.

Dr. Kent Palmberg, Stormont-Vail HealthCare's Chief Medical Officer, says the health care community has been in constant contact since H1N1 surfaced in the U.S. last week. He says they are getting constant updates about precautions they need to take.

One key change, he says, is that patients can expect to be asked whether they've travelled to Mexico or a place where the virus is known to be, or if they have been in contact with someone who has. St. Francis says it is asking similar questions.

Also, Palmberg says people with less severe symptoms might be tested for Influenza A, when perhaps they might not have been tested in the past - especially if they meet the travel criteria.

Palmberg says Stormont is also making sure its doctors have protective masks on hand - just in case. He says doctors are advised that if they get a call or know they'll see a patient that's been in a documented area where they've been exposed to swine flu, then they are to wear protective gear, including a face mask.

Patients, too, play a role. If you have H1N1 symptoms, such as a high fever, body aches and coughing, and have been in a known exposure area, it's suggested you call your doctor for advice rather than rush to the office or emergency room, provided your symptoms aren't life-threatening.

Palmberg says that with advanced noticed, the doctor's office can be prepared with face masks and get you right back to an isolated area, rather than having you sit in a waiting area, exposing everyone else to your symptoms.

Right now, most H1N1 cases are mild, but if they become more severe and strike more people, Palmberg says they are ready. He says the avian flu scare of a few years back spurred a lot of communication and action. He says there are great systems in place and stockpiles of medication with regional distribution points identified.

If you experience symptoms that qualify for testing, locally, you will be tested for Influenza A. Palmberg says if you're positive for A antigens, then your sample will be sent for further testing to see whether it is in fact H1N1. He says a positive initial test only says that you have some form of Influenza A - not necessarily what's being called swine flu.

Previously, those samples were all sent to the CDC in Atlanta for the further testing, but the CDC said Thursday that states will be sent kits to do their own follow-up tests.

Palmberg says Stormont tested 50 to 60 people for Influenza A over the past couple days, while the Lyon County Health Agency tested six. All those tests were negative for A antigens, meaning none required the follow-up testing.

St. Francis Health Center in Topeka said it had fewer than 20 patients come into its emergency department complaining of flu-like symptoms. They did not have a number of how many of those were tested for Influenza A.

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