News & Events

Doc warns of gaps in state’s flu response (MC)

Mary’s Note:

See today’s Boston Herald story "Doc warns of Gaps in State’s Flu Response." It quotes both David Ozonoff, MD, who works closely with Sandy Eaton and I on opposing the BU biolab, and Frank Singleton, head of the Lowell Health dept and a friend/supporter of MNA (Frank is an active member of Chris’s EP Task force). They both stress points that MNA has made repeatedly and forcefully.

By Richard Weir
Thursday, April 30, 2009 – Updated 1d 1h ago

“Vigilant” state officials say they are braced for a swine flu outbreak as the killer virus surfaced in the Bay State, but one leading expert warned of dangerous gaps in the system should a pandemic occur.

“I want the public to know we are prepared and I want the public to be prepared,” declared Gov. Deval Patrick.

Officials confirmed yesterday that two young brothers from Lowell were diagnosed with swine flu after returning with their family from a trip to Mexico.

The boys are recovering and expected to be fine, but the strain of flu they contracted was blamed yesterday for the death of a Mexican toddler visiting Texas as well as 159 deaths in Mexico itself.

“The danger right now is that we have an extremely brittle medical care and social services system. The last pandemic was in 1968 and, in essence, we were better off then,” said Dr. David Ozonoff, an epidemiologist and environmental health professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health.

Ozonoff pointed out that over the past 40 years, the number of staffed hospital beds in Massachusetts has been dramatically reduced as institutions cut costs.

In Lowell, where the first Bay State swine flu cases were confirmed, city health director Frank Singleton said the two hospitals “don’t have a lot of surge capacity if all of a sudden 50 people show up and need to be hospitalized.”

Singleton noted that the state Legislature several years ago scuttled a bill to spend $35 million to buy as many 5,000 spare beds in case of a pandemic emergency.

Officials acknowledged that little is known about the flu strain for which there is no vaccine.

“We are still on a steep learning curve. It’s been a week since it’s been on our radar. We need to learn more about it,” said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, head of the state’s bureau of communicable diseases.

The two Lowell brothers, 9 and 13 years old, had returned with their parents from a visit to Mexico last week while the Lowell parochial school they attended was in recess. One brother came down with flu-like symptoms late last week and the other over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Dr. Marc Greenwald of Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital said yesterday that his staff had sent specimens for testing to the state lab taken from a woman in her 50s and boy in his late teens who had both developed respiratory infections with fevers after returning from Mexico.

The confirmed cases in Massachusetts prompted schools to alert parents about ways to prevent the spread of the disease – but Patrick said there are no plans to begin closing schools.

Boston officials advised EMTs to wear masks and give out masks when responding to calls of patients with coughs.

State health officials said they are amassing a stockpile of 250,000 courses of antiviral medicines but, if the worse happens, Ozonoff said, “The battle plan never survives the first contact with the enemy. What they got down on paper will go out the window.”

On the Net: For the latest on the swine flu, visit the Centers for Disease Control