DOWNTOWN — As cases of swine flu continue to be reported around the globe, Santa Monica residents are taking appropriate precautions, but are for the most part feeling healthy and safe, they said.
Though there was some concern on Tuesday morning that the virus had reached Southern California, reports confirmed that swine flu was not the cause of one of the two recent deaths being investigated by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
Even still, the community’s pulse may have quickened with news of the disease surfacing in national and local media.
“It was a little crazy yesterday, but it’s better today. Nobody has asked for masks yet,” said a pharmacist’s assistant on Tuesday at the CVS/pharmacy on Lincoln Boulevard, which ran out of surgical masks on Monday. “People have been coming to the pharmacy for masks and stomach flu medicine Tamiflu. They were asking for them all day and when they heard that we didn’t have the masks they got so nervous and angry. We referred them to other pharmacies but we had nothing to offer.”
Residents who prefer less-mainstream types of prevention also sought information from their pharmacists about how to protect themselves and avoid infection.
“We do have customers coming who are concerned about swine flu, how it is contracted, what the symptoms are, and we’ve been educating them on that. If somebody comes in asking if we have products for swine flu, we say no,” said Sabine Abadou, a manager at the Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy. “We don’t have products that treat swine flu, but we do have some flu prevention products, herbs and remedies. If somebody comes in with chills, fever, weakness, we have treatments for all of those symptoms.”
Local hospitals have also seen an increase in calls and walk-ins from individuals concerned about their health.
“There’s a lot of inquiry, especially since the public gets news through so many outlets from all over the world,” said Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
Ghurabi explained that the testing and diagnostic procedures for swine flu are slightly different from standard infections, involving a hierarchical system of testing and reporting that ends, for confirmed cases, in the endorsement of the diagnosis from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have ways of testing for influenza A, the parent virus of swine flu, but those cases could still just be influenza A,” he said, adding that “the hospital has a very elaborate policy on this issue — on the exposure, on the incubation period, on the testing and treatment. All of our staff knows about it.”
In anticipation of a response from local parents, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District sent letters to the homes of students with information about disease prevention and staying healthy during flu season, said Marilyn Freedman, director of school safety for the district.
“School nurses are working on monitoring the status of infection and working on keeping good hygiene,” she said.
Although medical professionals in the area maintain that for the time being, Santa Monica residents have little reason to worry about contracting the virus, some residents are not in need of reassurance.
“I’m not worried about it at all. I’m unusual in that respect, I think, because even when I’m exposed to people, I believe that my attitude makes a difference,” said Dr. Terry Marks-Tarlow, a Santa Monica psychologist who specializes in mind-body connections and how psychology affects physical health. “If you’re afraid that you’re going to become infected, I think the likelihood of that happening is greater. If you feel safe inside yourself and promote a boundary where you feel like you’re resilient and like your immune system can handle exposure, you might be better off.
“I try to practice that.”
Others found reassurance in the context of the virus’ outbreak.
“They’re saying this swine flu is so bad and that it’s out of control when it’s no worse than the common cold,” said William Dee, a Santa Monica stuntman. “I know that a lot of people have died from it in Mexico, but you have to consider that Mexico doesn’t have the resources or the money that we do to keep their health up. It’s no shock that a lot of people in a poor country would die from this.”