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Health officials tackle flu fears
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Tips to avoid the flu

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • If you get influenza, the Center for Disease Control recommends staying home to help prevent the spread of illness to others. Persons with more severe symptoms, or who seem to be getting worse instead of better, should contact their health care provider.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.

Source: District 2 Public Health

With the school year in full swing, public health officials say they have received many phone calls from parents who are worried that their children have been infected with the H1N1 flu virus.

While the H1N1 virus, also known as "swine flu," may sound exotic, in most cases health officials say treatment options are pretty standard.

"The good news for the public to remember is that, while any strain of influenza can be serious, most confirmed cases of novel H1N1 to date have produced only mild to moderate illness," said Dave Palmer, public information officer for Public Health District 2, which includes Hall County. "For that reason, the CDC has recommended that school officials and the general public treat novel H1N1 just like they would the typical seasonal flu, which we have every year."

Because the symptoms to both the seasonal flu and H1N1 are so similar, health officials say it is impossible to tell one from the other.

"Most people with either the seasonal flu or novel H1N1 will recover completely within a few days or a week or so, and don’t require special treatment or medication," Palmer said. "However, should one develop severe illness — high fevers lasting more than three days, difficulty breathing or other serious symptoms — one should contact his or her health care provider immediately."

Though most health care providers can complete in-house flu screenings, the only way to know for sure if a patient is infected with the H1N1 virus is for testing samples to be sent to an outside diagnostic lab, such as the Georgia Public Health Lab.

Because of policy changes initiated by the CDC, the state health lab is currently only testing samples from patients who are in the hospital, an indication of a more serious case.

"The CDC made a change in late May to only test the samples from hospitalized H1N1 cases because they had enough tested samples to know that H1N1 was spreading," Palmer said.

"It is highly likely that there are many cases of novel H1N1 in our communities, and most people who develop the flu over the next few weeks will likely have novel H1N1. We know that there is little immunity within the public to the novel H1N1 virus. For this reason, it is very important for those who are sick to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus to others."

As with the seasonal flu, there is an H1N1 vaccine. Pregnant women and health care workers and individuals in other high-risk groups are encouraged to take advantage of both the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines when they become available this fall.

"The vaccines aren’t in yet, but we are hoping they are available soon," said Palmer. "We keep checking with the manufacturers, but they don’t have a ship date available yet."

The vaccinations are expected to be available by early September.

Public health officials also encourage everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of germs by washing their hands frequently and by covering their mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing.

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