Two new cases of swine flu confirmed

Published 4:05 pm Friday, July 3, 2009

With two new confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1 influenza—one in Colquitt County and the other in Thomas County—Southwest Health District’s count of patients with the disease has risen to five, says Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.

“The number of actual cases is thought to be higher,” Grant said. “Since we are no longer testing to determine if H1N1 is spreading but rather to monitor how severe it is, it is very likely that many infections are going uncounted.”

The Colquitt County patient, a four-month-old female, marks the first confirmation that the pandemic has pushed beyond Thomas County, where the district’s first three cases were reported.

A 21-year-old man has been identified as the fourth and most recent Thomas County H1N1 patient.

Statewide, the number of pandemic H1N1 cases had climbed to 78 as of June 30. No fatalities have been attributed to it in Georgia.

The addition of two more confirmed cases in Southwest Health District will change neither the level of alertness nor the type of response; and is not cause for alarm, she said.

“We have been expecting this. What we are seeing here is the same pattern that has emerged in Georgia and the United States. All U.S. states and more than 70 countries worldwide have reported pandemic H1N1 activity,” said Grant.

The National Centers of Disease Control and Prevention is emphasizing that since every case of pandemic H1N1 is not being reported or tracked, the actual number of cases far outstrips the reported figure. According to the CDC, there have been at least a million cases of this new virus in the United States so far this year, Grant said.

On June 11, the World Health Organization declared the disease had reached Pandemic Phase 6—a full-blown pandemic—based on the geographic spread of the virus. In terms of severity, however, the pandemic has been a mild one, said Grant.

“We are thankful that the majority of those who contract pandemic H1N1 are recovering at home without requiring hospitalization,” she said. “However, that could change. Viruses routinely undergo mutation. Sometimes they commingle and exchange genetic material. Under such scenarios, the infection could cause more severe illnesses.”

There have been precedents for that in past pandemics, Grant observed.

“During the deadly 1918 Pandemic, the first wave, which hit in the spring, was mild,” she said. “But the disease roared back in a more virulent form in the fall.”

Authorities are closely monitoring what the pandemic is doing now in the Southern Hemisphere, where the annual flu season is underway.

“What happens there may give us an idea of what to expect here this fall with seasonal flu,” Grant said. “We hope a vaccine will be available by then, but there is no guarantee.”

For now the best defense is to practice measures that help prevent the spread of any infectious disease:

 Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

 Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

 Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

 If you are sick with a flu-like illness, stay home until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours.

 Keep sick children at home.

 Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

 Stay informed—the situation may change rapidly, so listen for Public Health alerts and recommendations.

For more information about swine flu (H1N1) go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org or visit the CDC Web site, www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.