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Official: Northeast Ga. is prepared for a flu pandemic

POSTED: April 27, 2009 11:38 p.m.

Local officials said though there haven’t been any confirmed cases of swine flu in Georgia, they are prepared for a pandemic.

But David Westfall, District 2 Public Health director, said that doesn’t mean there is cause for panic.

“All 13 counties in our district worked diligently over the last two years developing a community pandemic flu plan,” Westfall said.
“We are taking our cue from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); they are sort of the lead agency on this and from the Division of Public Health at the state level. Right now it’s a matter of just keeping our eyes and ears open and being aware this is going on.”

Monday, the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert level to Phase 4, meaning there is sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus causing outbreaks in at least one country. Phase 6 is for a full-blown pandemic, characterized by community-level outbreaks in at least two different WHO regions of the world.

This is the first time WHO has raised its alert above Phase 3 since the revisions to the scale were made after bird flu began to spread throughout Asia in 2004.

As of Monday evening, 48 cases of swine flu were confirmed in the U.S., and 73 cases were reported outside of Mexico,
including six in Canada, one in Spain and two in Scotland. The suspected number of deaths rose to 149 in Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak with nearly 2,000 people believed to be infected.

The United States is urging Americans to cancel any unnecessary travel to Mexico, where the virus originated.

Westfall said swine flu is new and different from other strains of the flu virus.

“The concern about this particular strain of flu is that it seems to be a new strain that no one would have natural immunity to,” Westfall said.

Typically swine flu only infects pigs and, in rare cases, people who have close contact with an infected pig. But this strain of swine flu appears to be transmitted from human to human, Westfall said.

Mamie Coker, the health services coordinator for Hall County Schools, said schools also are prepared for a potential swine flu outbreak.

Many parents have called with concerns after hearing news of swine flu around the world, Coker said.

School nurses have been instructed to see any students or staff members who may have been exposed to the virus.

“Right now they are not to be excluded or quarantined but for the school nurse to assess them for any signs or symptoms,” Coker said. “We already know of several students who have traveled.”

Symptoms include cough, sore throat, fever, fatigue, body aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

Coker said schools are an important place to monitor illnesses.

“Schools are a microcosm of the community,” Coker said.

Currently, the confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S. were found in people who recently traveled to Mexico or were in close contact with someone who did.

Westfall said those concerned about the virus should take basic precautions to avoid illness such as frequent hand washing and covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing.

“The recommendations are really the same as our recommendations for regular flu season,” Westfall said. “Those are mostly common sense things.”

Westfall said people with flu-like symptoms that have had no contact with a confirmed case of swine flu should not panic.

“Probably the most important thing is not to rush off to the hospital,” he said. “If they think they may have been exposed to someone who could have the swine flu, then they need to contact their health care provider.”

Drugs such as Tamiflu, which are used to treat other strains of influenza, are recommended as treatment for swine flu.

“It doesn’t mean everybody ought to rush out and ask their doctor for a prescription for Tamiflu and start taking it. All that will do is deplete the supply,” Westfall said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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