Health Committee Chairman Pledges to Make State Resources Available to Fight Pandemic
WOODBRIDGE – Noting the seriousness of a potential swine flu outbreak in New Jersey, Senator Joseph F. Vitale, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, urged State residents to be on the look-out for symptoms, and said that he is working to make sure the State has the resources to handle a possible pandemic.
“With one of the highest population densities in the nation, a swine flu outbreak would spread very quickly through New Jersey, particularly endangering children, seniors and people with compromised immune systems,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “While most of the reported cases in the United States have been minor, we need to be aware of the dangers and take every precaution against spreading the disease. In the meantime, I’m going to work with State health officials to make sure that we have enough medicine on hand to treat those who come down with the illness or are at risk of exposure.”
Senator Vitale said that the current outbreak of swine flu cases in Mexico and the United States was first identified by public health agencies in March of 2009, and is a new strain of the H1N1 sub-type of the Influenza A virus. Symptoms of the virus include symptoms commonly associated with seasonal flu, including fever, lack of appetite, coughing and fatigue, while some patients have also reported sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Since the outbreak was first detected, there has been more than 2,500 possible cases reported world-wide, with 152 deaths attributed to the disease.
Yesterday, Department of Health officials identified 5 possible cases in New Jersey – the first reported instances of the disease in the Garden State – but the cases appear to be mild, and the results from confirmatory lab tests by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are still pending. Tests typically take up to 48 hours to produce confirmed results, and New Jersey officials expect to have those results tomorrow.
“In most of the reported cases of swine flu, the symptoms are no more dangerous than the seasonal variety of the virus,” said Senator Vitale. “However, the disease has proven to be highly contagious, and could be very dangerous for people with already-weak immune systems, or who are susceptible to respiratory illness. New Jersey residents should follow good health practices, and see a doctor if their symptoms persist.”
Senator Vitale noted that the State Department of Health and the Department of Education sent an advisory to schools and child care centers yesterday, asking that they report any suspected cases of swine influenza to their local health departments. The Department of Health has outlined precautionary measures that every New Jersey citizen can take to avoid getting the virus, including washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, staying at home if you’re sick, and covering your coughs and sneezes. Generally, children who are sick should be kept home 24-48 hours after the symptoms have ended to avoid spreading the disease to others.
In addition to raising public awareness about the threat of and precautions from being infected by swine influenza, Senator Vitale will be reaching out to State health officials to assess the availability and efficacy of anti-flu medications in treating the latest outbreak. He said that the relatively mild flu season this past winter means the State’s stockpile of anti-flu medications, like Tamiflu and Relenza, should be at a healthy level. However, he said he would look into possibly making more State resources available if health officials deem that the current stockpile isn’t sufficient to handle a pandemic of swine flu.
“Even in a bare-bones budget, we need to make sure we have funding designated for meeting the health needs of our residents,” said Senator Vitale. “I will be reaching out to Commissioner (Heather) Howard and the Department of Health to see if we have adequate reserves to treat State residents in the event of a full-on swine flu epidemic in New Jersey. If we need to invest more in the health and safety of our State residents, I’ll do whatever I can to make sure the funding is there to purchase needed medications.”