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Guard still up for flu

No cases reported in coastal area

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POSTED: May 15, 2009 8:45 a.m.
The beginning of the swine flu outbreak had Liberty County Health Department Administrator Deidre Howell giving up shaking hands and going to fist bumps, popularized by President Obama.
“[People] thought I was being cute, but I was being serious. Here’s where all the germs are,” Howell said, holding out her hand.
Blamed for three deaths in the United States, the outbreak has swept the globe with more than 6,000 confirmed cases as of yesterday.
But misinformation spread almost just as fast since the virus appeared in late April.
“A lot of people feel like it was overblown. A lot of money and attention that went to something that may have been a political maneuver,” Howell said, touching on the estimated $2 trillion Obama pushed to have cut from the health budget.
“They estimated in about three weeks it’ll burn itself out.”
But pandemic flu is nothing to take lightly.
“Picture this, if this was some sort of lethal strain that was killing people,” she said, comparing it to the infamous Grim Reaper, the Spanish flu of 1918.
So far, the disease hasn’t touched Liberty County and no one has been sent for testing, according to Howell during a Liberty County Citizens Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday evening.
But health and emergency officials have stayed on their toes since the World Health Organization upped the pandemic alert level April 30.
“We went to five in no time,” said John Henderson, CAC vice chairman. “This was a very iffy thing. Nobody knew really what was going on.”
Seemingly overnight, infection cases jumped by the hundreds and had people reaching from liquid hand sanitizers to facemasks.
The strain of virus has been determined to be a mix of avian flu, swine flu and the seasonal flu. That’s why many people have started referring to it as H1N1.
“One of the reasons there’s been an increase in cases is more people are being tested,” Howell said, adding a common mix-up with the regular flu.
Liberty County got its first medicine from a national strategic stockpile for 25 percent of the at-risk population after Georgia’s first swine flu confirmed case last Monday.
“We’ve been so lucky that this thing is not worse than it could have been,” Howell said. “If more people had died, we would have seen different approaches to this.”
CAC member Neal Jones wanted asked if all county agencies were ready to respond.
“It’s going to be all the folks in the community pulling together to make sure this thing doesn’t get out of control,” Howell said.
Last October’s drive-through flu exercise was good practice. It tested administering vaccinations to people in their vehicles.
But the best defense is a good offense, according to Howell, and personal hygiene should be kept up, including cough etiquette, hand washing and social distancing.
The virus is spread by close contact with the sick, but the chain has not gone past three people.
“It’s getting about three levels away and then it’s fizzling out because it’s not that rough of a virus,” Howell said.
She warned that we may not have seen the last of swine flu. Some predict the virus will come back with a vengeance this fall.
“I don’t have any way to say this will happen,” Howell said. “I don’t know. But it certainly won’t hurt to be prepared for it.”
“I would rather over prepare than under prepare,” Henderson said.
 

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