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DCF workers helping Haiti refugees getting sick, CDC called in

by Dara Kam | January 26th, 2010

So many state workers helping Haitian earthquake survivors that the Department of Children and Families asked for help from federal health authorities.

DCF has asked staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to screen Haitians at the Sanford and Orlando airports to try to keep flu-like infections from spreading, DCF spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner said today.

Up to 80 DCF employees, who have volunteered to help the agency handle the influx of refugees from earthquake-shattered Haiti, are working around the clock in the Orlando area, Hoeppner said.

Agency officials sent out an e-mail instructing workers to use universal health precautions, such as gloves and masks, to keep from getting sick.

“We don’t know where this is coming from but want to make sure that everybody’s health is being taken care of,” said Hoeppner, who said she had stomach-flu symptoms throughout the weekend.

“You’re comforting people. You’re wiping running noses. And you’re changing diapers. Those are all things that workers are doing every day. There’s a lot of close contact with our own staff and with the passengers coming off of these planes,” she said, adding that there is “hand sanitizer everywhere you look.”

About 25 workers in the Orlando and Sanford area, where Florida’s Haitian aid is centered, have come down with flu-like symptoms.

Hoeppner said that although the situation is stressful for the refugees and the workers, the job is also rewarding.

“Everybody has probably had an emotional moment being here. If you haven’t cried, you don’t care. And if you don’t care you don’t need to be here,” she said.

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