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State, local officials keep eye on flu

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POSTED: April 29, 2009 9:10 a.m.
Swine flu has apparently not charged into Georgia yet, but local and regional health agencies are on the ready and continue to track federal updates.
Of the confirmed 64 U.S. cases, the closest the disease has come to Georgia is six infections in Texas. There have been no reported deaths in the United States.
Yesterday, the World Health Organization raised the threat level
from three to four, “meaning that there is significant person-to-person transmission to a new virus,” explained Annette Neu, director of emergency preparedness and response for the Coastal Health District.
“It’s because it’s a novel flu strain — it’s not appeared before,” Neu said. “Generally, people will lack immunity to this strain of influenza.”
“CDC [Center of Disease Control] is working on characterizing the virus and vaccine development for a vaccine won’t be available for several months,” she added.
The local Health Department has not seen any increase in residents with flu-like symptoms.
“We’ve not had local concern exhibited,” said Linda Ratcliffe, public information officer for the Liberty County Health Department.
But the health department is bracing for any changes.
“As a district, we’re getting materials ready and we do have procedures come into play when we have a pandemic,” Ratcliffe said.
Liberty County residents should follow instruction from public health groups through the media, if action is warranted.
“If there’s one [vaccine] available and we got to a pandemic level, then we would set up points of distribution,” Ratcliffe said. “But right now, we’re not at that point.”
“At this point, it’s still considered an outbreak,” Neu said. “We are in a pre-pandemic stage.”
A pandemic is a worldwide outbreak.
“All of the cases in the United States have been mild and responded to medication,” Neu said. “People that are ill should see their physician because the medicine is most effective if started in 48 hours of symptoms.”
The airborne virus spreads airborne or by contact with someone who is sick.
“The virus will live on surfaces for a while,” Neu said. “That’s why washing your hands is so important.”
Eyes, nose and mouth are the gateways for the disease, so Neu suggests the public put up their guard.
Protecting the health of eight counties, the Coastal Health District is “getting significant phone calls and inquires,” according to Neu.
“There’s a reason for people to be prepared, to be educated and prepared,” Neu said.
Good hygiene and taking preventive measures are the best ways to stay healthy.
“I would expect this to be a limited time period for this outbreak, with a possible re-emergence of the virus in the fall,” Neu said.
Flu season is nearing the end. So Neu is not suggesting retaking normal flu shots.
“The regular flu shot would be ineffective,” Neu said, adding the health department still have some available.
Mike Hodges, director of the Hinesville EMA, said he and his staff also are closely monitoring the situation. He urged residents to remain calm and informed.
“We just want everybody to trust that we’re keeping our eyes on it and watching the entire state of Georgia,” he said.
For the latest developments in swine flu, check the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov and the Coastal Health District Web site at www.gachd.org.
 

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