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Schools, military take precautions against flu

POSTED: September 4, 2009 5:07 p.m.
Photo by Lauren Hunsberger/

Tiffany Green works under a sign that describes what she does at Whitman Pharmacy.

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Flu season is only weeks away, and with the addition of the H1N1 strain, area health officials are bracing for a busy fall.
“It is difficult to predict with certainty what the 2009-2010 flu season will bring,” said Diane Weems, MD, chief medical officer for Coastal Health District. “We know from reports of the World Health Organization that H1N1 has been the most common flu virus seen in most of the Southern Hemisphere, where flu season is winding down.”
Weems said Georgia experienced a decrease in H1N1 cases over the summer since its peak in the spring. But the strain never vanished, and she predicts it will likely gain strength again in the coming weeks.
“With the start of school, not surprisingly, CDC surveillance information suggests the U.S., including Georgia, is experiencing an increase in influenza-like illness, most of which is likely H1N1,” she said.
Because the H1N1 strain is new, she said people who haven’t been vaccinated in the past might want to think twice this year.
“Unlike seasonal flu, most individuals, especially children and young adults, are thought to have no immunity to H1N1,” Weems said. “Based on this information, I expect there will be significant numbers of individuals infected with flu in the coming months — how much of that will be H1N1 or seasonal flu is unknown, but overall, expect the numbers of those infected to be larger than we typically see.”
According the CHD Public Relations Information Manager Sally Silbermann, the people most at risk include pregnant women, health-care personnel, children younger than 2, people working in high-population environments and people with pre-existing health conditions.

“Fortunately, most healthy individuals have developed only mild to moderate illness, but we do know certain groups are at higher risks of complications,” Weems said.
Vaccines for the H1N1 strain are currently unavailable but are expected to be released sometime in October.

School preparations
Children are considered to be a high-risk group, so Liberty County schools are in full-scale preparation mode. Lisa Palmer, a registered nurse at Liberty County High School, said her main tactic in helping children — and the employees who work around them — fight the flu is to teach them good hygiene skills.
“What we’re doing is we’re teaching hand washing techniques,” Palmer said. “We’re also teaching them to cough into their elbow instead of their hands.”
She’s also equipped with a plan to help children who start to feel ill during school hours.
“If we find students with a fever, we give them a mask until their parents can come get them. We also have special room for them to wait,” she said.
But she’s hoping not to have to distribute too many masks, so she’s asking parents to monitor their children and look for signs of fever before sending them to school.
“Anybody with a fever is asked to stay at home,” she said “They need to be fever-free without medication for 24 hours before returning.”

Army preparations

Due to close proximity and travel schedules, soldiers are also considered a high-risk group.
Kevin Larson, public affairs officer for Fort Stewart, said plans to combat any widespread infection are already under way. Currently, they’re passing out pandemic preparedness kits to concerned soldiers or family members as they await vaccines.
“Once we start giving out seasonal flu vaccines, which should be sometime this month, there’s a plan to give H1N1 vaccines, too,” Larson said. “We’re looking at October.”
He said once vaccines become available, health officials at Fort Stewart will administer them to highest-risk people first, but will not turn anyone away.
“Once we get stockpiles, the plan is to give both those vaccines to anyone affiliated with Fort Stewart,” he said, adding this includes DoD civilians, family members and anyone else with a direct connection.

 

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