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Published April 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

Flu pandemic? No panic in the Northland

The level of concern about swine flu seems to be rising in the Northland but there’s no panic, staff members at area pharmacies, travel agencies and hospitals said Monday.

By: Jana Hollingsworth, Associated Press

The level of concern about swine flu seems to be rising in the Northland but there’s no panic, staff members at area pharmacies, travel agencies and hospitals said Monday.

“We’ve had calls: ‘I have a plane ticket to go to Mexico tomorrow, should I go?’ ” said Dr. Timothy Burke, a health-care epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist for SMDC Health System. “We’re pretty much sticking to guidance from the CDC.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Monday that all non-essential travel to Mexico be avoided.

Travelers appeared not to be canceling trips, but some who had booked trips were calling to discuss their options with agents. Two parties booked trips to Mexico on Monday through About and Beyond Travel in Proctor, both leaving Saturday.

“It’s probably deterring people I’m not hearing about,” said Kelly Horak, owner of the agency.

Some airlines have lifted major penalties for people who cancel trips to Mexico in light of the possible pandemic, said Angie Rue, an agent at Horizons Travel Service in Superior.

Both Skyline Travel and AAA in Duluth took questions from people traveling to Mexico, but neither had cancellations.

“They’re concerned and want to hear what we think and what we know,” said Renee Crassweller, field manager for AAA.

Sales of respiratory masks have been steady. On Sunday two Duluth Walgreens stores were out of masks, and on Monday the Medical Arts Pharmacy had three inquiries about masks, when it typically sells one a month, pharmacist Craig Witchall said. He also had sold his first prescription of the winter for Tamiflu, one of two medications used against the new variation of swine flu.

Midwest Medical Equipment and Supplies has sold boxes of masks to about six people in the past three days. The company stocked up during the bird flu scare, and “they’ve been sitting there for a year,” financial systems manager Peg Van House said. “Today we had some sales.”

“This week will be a very telling week for us,” said Linda Van Etta, epidemiologist and infectious disease expert for St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth. “If a week from now we have only 100 cases, that can be reassuring; but if we have a thousand or 10,000 cases, I think the response will be much different on the part of the CDC.”

Van Etta said the hospital and its clinics have met to discuss plans for dealing with a pandemic, and they have put up signs regarding proper hygiene. So far, though, patients aren’t overreacting.

“People aren’t panicking, and we haven’t had a lot of phone calls,” she said. “We’re not seeing a lot of cases of people coming in with fever and chills; and if we saw that, for example, in the ER, we would certainly put them in an isolation room and choose to put a mask on.”

People on the front lines within the St. Mary’s-Duluth Clinic health system met with management to map out strategies for dealing with influenza-like illnesses Monday, said Kim Kaiser, SMDC spokeswoman.

Burke advised people with flu-like symptoms to stay home from work or school. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, headache, non-productive coughs and watery nasal discharge. People with symptoms who have traveled to an area with confirmed cases of swine flu in the past seven days should seek medical attention, he said.