Cases cited in state; health officials on swine flu watch

Citing an outbreak in Lowell as well as clusters of cases that have popped up across the country, state and local health officials and neighborhood caregivers are bracing for the possible serious incursion of a deadly swine flu strain into the region this week. Said Dr. Salvatore Molica, a longtime family physician at the Codman Square Health Center: “Vigilance is going to be the word of the day the next several weeks.”

Molica recommended that anyone suffering from a sore throat, a fever, and a runny nose should go to a doctor to get the symptoms checked out, particularly if he or she has been in Mexico or has been in recent contact with someone returning from Mexico.

The symptoms are similar to seasonal flu. Individuals cannot receive swine flu from eating pork and infections often occur when humans are around pigs, or the virus spreads from one person to another.

Ed Grimes, head of the Uphams Corner Health Center, noted that most health centers are required to have a plan in place to deal with a potential pandemic, including a “substantial” supply of respiratory masks and access to medication. “We’re in the process of preparing our staff in the event it becomes a very serious matter,” he said. “If it gets very bad, I don’t think anyone is truly prepared.”

The center is prepared for a “moderate” pandemic, with enough masks and medical supplies for 300 to 400 people, Grimes said. “Right now things look good and let’s hope it doesn’t get any worse,” he said.

State health officials, in a briefing with reporters earlier this week, said Massachusetts was investigating all cases and is on “high alert.” “It’s a new virus and it has the potential” to do some damage, said Dr. Al DeMaria, the state epidemiologist at the Department of Public Health. “Any novel virus must be treated seriously.”

Dr. Anita Berry, director of the Infectious Disease Bureau at the Boston Public Health Commission, said in a statement that residents should still be able to attend large events. “People who are not ill do not need to restrict their activities; they should continue to follow the advice of state and local public health officials, who will notify the community and work with institutions if and when cases are confirmed and if and when large-scale events need to be canceled,” she said.

The Department of Public Health states that swine flu is treatable in people. Patients should drink plenty of fluids, rest up, eat healthy foods, wash hands frequently, and stay home to avoid spreading the disease. The same kinds of drugs used for seasonal flu may be used for swine flu. No vaccine currently exists for swine flu, according