NAPLES — Medical supply stores are seeing a run on masks in Southwest Florida as seasonal residents prepare for air travel and others with family in Mexico snap up masks to send to relatives.
Several medical suppliers have already run out and hope to get restocked in the event cases of swine flu are reported in Florida, which is likely, Florida Surgeon General Ana M. Viamonte Ros said early Tuesday.
A few hours later, public health officials reported they sent flu-like specimens from patients in Orlando to the CDC for testing, clarifying earlier reports of the state’s first case of swine flu.
Bill Townsend, manager of Summit Medical Supplies on First Avenue South in Naples, said he ran out of masks earlier this week. He was busy Tuesday looking to get new stock after his supplier told him he was totally out and it would be another two weeks before he could get more.
“A lot of people are sending them elsewhere,” he said. “I just heard someone wanted them to send to family in Mexico and another wanted to send them to New Jersey and New York.”
Summit sells the N95 mask made by 3M that is a cone-shaped respirator mask that protects against particulates and germs, compared to surgical masks that protect against fluids. The N95 mask meets the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines for controlling tuberculosis exposure and is recommended for health-care workers.
Similar runs on the masks occurred after Sept. 11 with the anthrax scare and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS, epidemic of 2003.
Alert Medical Equipment in Naples used to carry the N95 masks and was looking to get restocked as a result of swine flu, said Jim Swearingen, the branch manager at the store 534 U.S. 41.
By late Tuesday afternoon, he ordered 1,000 of the masks and they should be in shortly, he said.
Advanced Medical Products on Bonita Beach Road had some N95 masks in stock but it was a limited supply.
Demand for the N95 masks jumped significantly and now are on back order but it is being addressed, said Jacqueline Berry, 3M spokeswoman at the company’s suburban St. Paul, Minn. headquarters.
“We’ve increased production to meet demand,” she said.
Sunshine Medical Supply at Palm at 411 U.S. 41 in Naples has ordered a new stock of 1,200 masks, the N95 masks, that are being delivered Wednesday. Its affiliate, Sunshine Pharmacy, also will be getting stock of anti-viral drug tamiflu, which requires a doctor’s prescription for when someone is symptomatic.
“We will have (the masks) at all our locations and we are selling them in quantities of five per person,” said Annalise Smith, vice president of business development for Sunshine. “We won’t sell a full box to any individual. We have a lot of seasonal people getting ready to travel.”
Meanwhile, the executive director of the Collier County Health Department, Dr. Joan Colfer, briefed the Collier County Commission Tuesday and described the swine flu situation as a rapidly evolving event where the health department is in first phase of action that involves finding cases and controlling them. The health department will also have antiviral treatment on hand for people who become sick and to treat their contacts.
“We can do that for a certain number of cases,” she said, adding that if case load scenario moves into the hundreds, that’s when the health department switches to community control, similar to what’s happening in Mexico.
That’s where public meetings get cancelled, school gets cancelled and sick people are told to stay home.
“Right now there is no reason for anybody to wear a mask unless they are sick,” she said. “At the moment, we feel the community can go about their business as usual.”
Hospitals and physicians are being asked to get nasal swab specimens for people who have influenza illness and fever who specifically traveled to Mexico or California to the state laboratory.
Good respiratory habits are important, such as frequent hand washing and sneezing and coughing into your sleeve, and stepping away at least six feet from someone who is sick, she said. She also recommends preparing a flu kit for home with extra ginger ale, crackers, and soup is a good idea.
A pandemic flu drill that was previously scheduled for May 6 is still scheduled or could be switched to the real thing, she said.
“We have been drilling this over and over again so hopefully we’ve got it right,” Colfer said.
The Collier County Health Department set up a swine flu hotline to answer questions. The number is 252-6220.