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Arizona officials prepare for swine flu but say no reason for panic

Preparing for the probability that swine flu will reach Arizona, state and county officials urged people to take precautions such as washing hands frequently but said there is no reason for panic.

Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director for the Immunization Program Office at the Arizona Department of Health Services, said that while there have been no cases of the virus reported here, the fact that it has shown up in Mexico, Texas and California means it’s likely to find its way to Arizona.

“I would expect that we will be seeing some case of this strain soon,” she said. “What happens is when we get a new virus you don’t know at the beginning how serious it’s going to be.”

Gov. Jan Brewer, who was briefed over the weekend by state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Arizona is well prepared.

“I’m very confident that we’ve got enough antiviral serum on board,” she said. “I want to assure the people of Arizona that Arizona has everything under control.”

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, many passengers arriving from Mexico, where the swine flu outbreak originated, wore blue surgical masks.

“I heard about the outbreak so I decided to be careful,” said Maria Johnston of Sacramento, who said she knows form her work as a librarian how quickly a virus can spread.

Johnston said she’d keep the mask on “until I get to Sacramento.”

At a news conference, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon assured residents that Arizona is in no imminent danger.

“Across the world there’s a lot of speculation, there’s a lot of things that unknown at this time,” said Gordon, joined by law enforcement officials. “The fact of the matter is there is not an emergency here in Arizona.”

Sky Harbor spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher said that officials will isolate any travelers from international points who show flu-like symptoms.

“We prepare for this at the airport all year long, not just in a time like this,” she said.

Local, state and federal health officials urged anyone concerned about flu-like symptoms to contact their health care providers. They said good hygiene, including washing hands frequently, and avoiding crowds are the ways to avoid contracting the virus.

Kevin Irvine, health services director for Santa Cruz County, said that because of Santa Cruz County’s proximity to the Mexican border he is urging residents to be extra cautious.

“We don’t want to scare people; we want to keep this in perspective,” Irvine said. “Certainly here at the border this is a concern, and we’re telling people if they’re traveling to Mexico just be aware.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued an advisory discouraging non-essential travel to Mexico.

Vaira Harik, director of the Cochise County Health Department, said it’s unclear whether or not swine flu directly caused any of deaths reported in Mexico.

“There is still so much we don’t know about this disease,” Harik said. “What we do know is that none of the cases in the U.S. have been fatal, and until we know more people should be cautious, not panicked.”

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