Jackson County public health officials were still on the lookout for swine flu Tuesday, but no cases have been identified in Oregon or Washington.

Jackson County public health officials were still on the lookout for swine flu Tuesday, but no cases have been identified in Oregon or Washington.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County's medical officer, encouraged people to take the same precautions they would use to avoid any other influenza virus: frequent hand-washing, coughing into the arm to avoid spreading disease, and staying home if you fall ill with flu symptoms, which usually include rapid onset and some combination of muscular aches, sore throat, dry cough, fever, chills, headache and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting with this strain of flu.

"Don't go out if you're sick," he said.

At a mid-afternoon press conference Tuesday, Shames said local public health officials are communicating regularly with state health officers, who in turn talk to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Local health officials have been preparing for a widespread flu outbreak for the past few years, and will implement a response plan when or if the virus becomes a local health problem.

If the threat were serious enough, public health officials could recommend school closures to keep children from getting sick and spreading the disease, Shames said.

"The thing that makes categorizing this disease so difficult is that the disease mutates quickly," Shames said, explaining that it mutated enough to transfer from pigs to humans. That usually doesn't happen.

Each strain of virus behaves differently. Some start out causing minor illness and turn deadly. Others start out strong and mutate into something mild.

Shames said individuals have a responsibility to think about how they would respond if the disease arrives here, just as local governments have a role to play in protecting public health. He encouraged parents to ask themselves what they would do if they became ill and had to stay home, or what they would do if their children became ill and they had to stay home from work to care for them.

He said researchers should be able to develop a vaccine for the swine flu virus, but the production process takes months, or as much as a year, depending on how much vaccine is needed. Researchers are trying to determine whether they can alter existing vaccines to make them effective against the swine flu, or create a new vaccine from scratch.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.