Health officials ramp up for swine flu

On Wednesday, following reports of the first U.S. death from the swine flu
(also known as H1N1) virus, Southwest Health District Health Director
Dr. Jacqueline Grant put public health on heightened alert throughout
the 14-county district with a partial activation of its Emergency
Operations Center, stronger surveillance measures and more robust
communication with staff, partner agencies and the public.
“We are saddened to learn of the death of the child in Texas, and our
hearts go out to the family. We know that the death, coupled with the
increased number of reported cases of H1N1 in the country, raises
everyone’s level of concern,” Grant said. As of noon today, the 91
cases had been confirmed in 10 states. No cases have been confirmed in
Georgia.
Grant said that by standing up a partial Emergency Operations Center at
the Southwest Health District headquarters in Albany, her staff would be
better able to respond quickly and effectively if the disease becomes a
pandemic. “We are making sure our staff is informed and aware that
they may be called upon to work in shifts if necessary,” she said.
“We’re stepping up our surveillance activities. And we are
working with healthcare providers and hospitals, as well as schools and
other partners, to make sure they understand how a pandemic could affect
them and what they can be doing now to prepare.”
In addition, Public Health officials are educating healthcare providers
about the testing criteria for suspected swine flu patients, said Grant.
“Physicians and hospitals have guidelines specifying when a swine flu
test sample should be taken. We want to make sure they clearly
understand that the sample must come from a patient fitting the CDC
criteria and that they must coordinate with Public Health in getting the
sample to the lab to ensure it is processed and included in surveillance
efforts.”
Grant explained that public health staff serves as “the boots on the
ground” as disease investigators look at the flu’s progression.
“We need to track where the illness is, how quickly it spreads, and
who is most severely affected by it so that we can make the best
decisions on how to protect the public,” she said.
“Swine influenza is a respiratory disease of pigs that has had
limited transmission to humans in the past. What concerns us about this
particular swine flu – H1N1 – is that we are seeing person-to-person
transmission,” Grant said.
The virus is spread mainly through coughing and sneezing, she said.
“We are urging people with flu-like symptoms – fever, lethargy, loss
of appetite and sore throat – to stay home,” Grant said. “If their
symptoms are severe, they need to see their healthcare provider. By
self-isolating themselves, people can prevent H1N1 or any infectious
disease from spreading.”
Other ways to prevent the spread of contagious disease, including H1N1
include:
§    Cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. If a tissue is
used, dispose of it properly
§    Wash hands often with soap and water. Alcohol-based
hand-cleaners are also effective.
§    Avoid touching your nose or mouth.
For more information about swine flu (H1N1) go online to
www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or visit the CDC website,
www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.

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