Swine flu here; schools are prepared

Published 12:53 pm Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What to do if you get the flu? (228K PDF)

Decatur County has had its first confirmed case of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, in a 13-year-old student, however all local schools have taken health precautions and are monitoring the situation.

A 13-year-old who was one of two people hospitalized during the second week of August tested positive for H1N1, said Jane Chesser, an RN and infection preventionist with memorial Hospital. An adult who was hospitalized that same week tested negative, Chesser said. Chesser said now that it’s known that H1N1 has spread to our area, health officials are focusing less on testing ill persons for whether they have H1N1, seasonal influenza or something else, and instead working to make sure people who are at high risk of complications from flu-like illness receive treatment.

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“We’ve seen an increase in outpatient visits related to flu, and we’ve had a couple more people who have had it serious enough to be admitted to the hospital,” she said. “For that reason, we’ve adopted a policy of restricting children under the age of 14 from visiting the patient care areas in our hospital at this time.”

People at a greater risk of having more serious flu illness include women who are pregnant, people over the age of 65, children younger than five years old, anyone who has immune system disorder and anyone with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, according to the Southwest Georgia Public Health District.

Memorial Hospital is preparing to have its employees and doctors take the H1N1 vaccination shot when it becomes available and local health officials are preparing to make seasonal flu shots available to everyone who needs or wants one, Chesser said.

Since school started back on Aug. 7, Decatur County public schools and Grace Christian Academy have experienced a larger than normal number of absences due to illness, but officials for both say they are taking precautions against the spread of germs, whether they be related to the H1N1 virus, seasonal flu or something else.

Schools taking health precautions

At Bainbridge Middle School, which has had absences due to flu-like symptoms along with other county schools, several health precautions are being taken and officials are attempting to track and limit the spread of illness, Principal Marvin Thomas said. In accordance with district-wide policy, students who develop a fever or otherwise become ill at school are being given medical masks to wear and being kept separate from other students until parents can arrange to pick them up, Thomas said.

Teachers are encouraging students to use hand sanitizers, wash their hands and sneeze into their elbows instead of into the air. The school’s nurse, Carol Lynn, is on campus throughout the day to tend to sick students. She’s also keeping track of the number of students who are sick and recording which classrooms they’re from.

“Keeping records will help us see if there’s any clusters of sick students from a particular class,” Thomas said. “We had a number of absences the first two weeks of school, but this week has been better.”

Thomas said any parents who have questions about the schools’ health policies can call their child’s school or the Board of Education office at 248-2200.

Grace Christian Academy has had some absences due to illness—mostly coughing, sore throat and fever—however, no students have become seriously ill as yet, said Headmaster Joan Shriver. Students who take ill at school are also being kept separate from their peers until parents can pick them up, and the school has sent parents information about the H1N1 virus, Shriver said.

“We’re constantly washing the desks and asking students to use hand sanitizer multiple times a day,” Shriver said. “We’re being very cautious.”

Bainbridge College is also taking health precautions at both the main campus and the Early County campus, said Marcia McRae, Director of Communications and Development at the college. Signs are posted around both campuses reminding people of good health habits, hand sanitizer has been put out in common gathering areas such as the library and the college’s janitorial staff are taking extra care to clean computer labs and other high-traffic areas, McRae said. The college is also encouraging students and faculty who don’t feel well to stay at home until they are better, McRae said.

“It’s been made clear to the students that their health is paramount and that missing a class due to illness is something they can work out with their professors,” McRae said.

H1N1 is ‘widespread’ in Georgia

According to the Centers for Disease Control, which is responding to the H1N1 update along with state and local health departments, influenza-like illness is “widespread” in Georgia and there is regional activity throughout the Southeast United States, including Alabama, Florida and the Carolinas. That classification comes from the CDC’s weekly influenza surveillance report for the week ending August 22. Between last fall and this past April, the number of people going to hospital emergency rooms or clinics with flu-like symptoms largely followed the seasonal rates of previous years, according to the CDC’s data. However, since April, the rate of flu-like illness has accounted for 1 to 2 percent of outpatient visits, compared with less than one percent during the same period in 2006-2008.

Throughout the United States and its territories, there have been 8,843 hospitalized H1N1 flu cases and 556 deaths from H1N1, according to the CDC. In Georgia, there have been 44 H1N1 hospitalizations and four deaths, including three in August, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

However, while there have been serious cases of H1N1, nationwide reports indicate that H1N1 typically causes mild illness, and that the risks associated with the virus are no greater than those of seasonal flu. While the state health department is no longer automatically testing all suspected cases of H1N1, following CDC’s recommendations, it continues to test all persons hospitalized with flu-like symptoms and at the request of local health officials. The Southwest Georgia Health District is asking people to follow the same precautions that schools are at home and work.

For more information about H1N1, people can call the CDC toll-free at 800-CDC-INFO or the Decatur County Health Department at 248-3055. People with more general flu questions may visit the Southwest Georgia Health District’s Web site at www.southwestgeorgiahealth.org or the U.S. government’s flu Web site, www.flu.gov