Ashland health officials prepare for swine flu

Residents of Ashland and its Mexican sister city, Guanajuato, are concerned about the swine flu but no cases have been reported in either city, officials said today.

Jackson County Health and Human Services administrators held a conference call with state health officials this morning to address preparedness for the swine flu.

Although the flu, which appears to have originated in Mexico City, has sickened a few people in California and other U.S. states, there have been no confirmed cases in Oregon.

Likewise, there have been no reported cases of swine flu in Guanajuato, said José Luis Romero Hicks, a lawyer and former government official there. Romero Hicks was among the approximately 70 visitors from Guanajuato who came to Ashland the week of April 12 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the two cities becoming "sisters."

"People are concerned, but it's something that as of now is not perceived as a threat to our state or our community," said Romero Hicks, who received a master's in economics from Southern Oregon University and worked in former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's administration.

"I am in the plaza right now and I can see hundreds of people and nobody is wearing a mask," he said.

Ashland senior homes and health facilities appear to be operating as usual. Administrators at Linda Vista Nursing & Rehab Center in Ashland hadn't been advised to take extra precautions because of the swine flu, said Sheena Richards, admissions coordinator at the center.

"We're not really doing anything extraordinary, but we're keeping an eye on things and being generally cautious," she said.

The residents at the center didn't appear worried about the flu as of this morning, but some of the health officials are concerned, Richards said.

"I won't be surprised if does move up this way sooner or later," she said. "It's scary."

Meanwhile, Romero Hicks said people in Guanajuato are hoping that the virus stays contained in Mexico City. Guanajuato is about 230 miles northwest of Mexico City.

"I think we should all be worried, but let's hope that it doesn't go beyond Mexico City and the few other cities that have had this problem," he said.

While There have been no cases of swine flu reported in Oregon, public health officials say the state is prepared for its arrival.

Dr. Mel Kohn, the state public health director, said Sunday that Oregonians with flu-like symptoms are being tested for the strain of flu that has sickened 20 Americans and is suspected of killing more than 85 people in Mexico.

The U.S. declared a health emergency so it could ship antiviral drugs and masks to states from a federal stockpile — in case the need arises. "We are expecting them to come to Oregon shortly, but let me also say that we are not expecting to be distributing those things shortly," Kohn said.

Kohn said influenza samples collected this year that state officials couldn't identify were shipped to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for definitive testing and all were negative for swine flu.

"All of us believe that we are not yet at the point where we have a widespread epidemic," Kohn said. "But we are ready to respond if the situation should become more serious."

The swine flu causes the same symptoms as the other strains of flu.

Health officials the are three important ways to make sure the flu doesn't spread. The first is to wash your hands often, the second is to cover your mouth when you cough, preferably with a tissue. And third, go see your doctor if you are sick but try not to expose others.

Though the swine flu has yet to hit the Pacific Northwest, California has had seven confirmed cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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