Kentucky health authorities have not confirmed an actual case of swine flu in the state, but they continue to urge people with severe flu-like symptoms to be tested.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department of Public Health is reaching out to the Spanish-speaking community with messages urging anyone who has visited Mexico recently to be alert for flu-like symptoms. More than 150 have died in Mexico after contracting swine flu in recent weeks.
The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department said it is distributing fliers carrying similar messages in neighborhoods with large Spanish-speaking populations.
Fayette officials also said the department will expedite the shipment of patient test samples by picking them up at doctors' offices and delivering them to the state lab in Frankfort.
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Any samples that test positive for influenza A in Frankfort will be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for analysis to determine whether swine flu is present. No samples have been sent to the CDC yet, said state health department spokeswoman Gwenda Bond.
"Even some of the cases that appeared likely have not met all the criteria," Bond said. "A couple of people we've had who showed respiratory symptoms and had traveled to Mexico recently turned out not to have influenza. There are plenty of other bugs circulating out there this time of year."
Bond said the state health department still is urging patients who have severe symptoms — coughs, aches and high fevers — to contact their personal doctors for testing.
Bond said health officials are sending alerts to Spanish-speaking neighborhoods for several reasons, including reassuring individuals that they can come in for flu testing without fear, regardless of immigration status.
Health authorities say they're watching for any signs of people avoiding Spanish-speaking individuals or stigmatizing Kentucky's Spanish-speaking community as a result of the emerging swine flu threat.
Freddy Peralta, president of the Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said his group is monitoring the situation, but has received no reports so far of discrimination against Mexicans or other immigrants related to swine flu.
Bond said state officials would try to counter any cases of stigmatization that are reported.
"We would be more direct about emphasizing that this is not a disease that recognizes borders and that diseases typically don't have a preference for race," she said.
The Fayette health department continues to urge individuals with swine flu questions or suspicious symptoms to call its flu hotline at (859) 288-7529.