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Officials begin flu education

CONYERS - Local and state health officials announced the start of an education campaign Thursday to prepare the public for the traditional flu season and H1N1 pandemic flu strain.

Called the "Roll Up Your Sleeve" campaign, the effort will include brochures, public service announcements, posters and social networking Web sites like Twitter to provide information on vaccination locations.

State officials said there will be plenty of vaccinations for both seasonal and H1N1 flu strains. The promotional blitz is intended to highlight the importance of Georgians within high-risk categories getting a seasonal flu and/or novel H1N1 vaccination.

"While the current data indicates that the severity of the illness caused by the novel H1N1 virus is not increasing, it is important that Georgians arm themselves with knowledge and take action to avoid getting or spreading the seasonal flu and novel H1N1 flu viruses," said Dr. Rhonda Medows, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Health, in a statement.

Concern grew after the H1N1 virus, initially called the swine flu, was first reported in Mexico and spread across the world from country to country.

According to the World Health Organization's pandemic Web site, 177,457 cases of the H1N1 flu have been reported in more than 170 countries. The WHO reported 1,462 deaths related to the pandemic.

In the United States, 6,506 cases of the H1N1 flu have been reported with 436 confirmed deaths, including one death in Georgia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health departments in Rockdale and Newton counties will have vaccines for the seasonal flu earlier than usual this year, and the H1N1 vaccine is expected to arrive by mid- to late October, according to Vernon Goins, public information officer of the East Metro Health District.

"We are being told that there will not be a shortage of vaccines for either the seasonal flu strains or the H1N1 virus," he said. "However, the H1N1 vaccine is being produced by the same companies that are making the seasonal flu vaccine and production had to be finished on the latter before the former could begin; therefore the difference in delivery times."

Goins said residents can call their local health department clinics to see if the vaccine supplies have arrived. In Rockdale County, residents can call 770-785-4345, a new phone number to go with the new clinic, located at 981 Taylor St. in the J.P. Carr Administration building in Conyers.

Newton County residents should call 770-786-9086 for the health department clinic at 8203 Hazelbrand Road in Covington.

With the two vaccines there is a possibility for persons to have up to three flu shots to be protected this year.

"We encourage the most vulnerable groups to come first for the seasonal flu vaccine and then for the H1N1 flu shot. The H1N1 will have to be given in two doses for adults, possibly more for children under 12. We are awaiting word from the CDC regarding this. We are also awaiting guidelines for administering the H1N1 vaccine. While enough vaccine will be available, it will be coming later than the seasonal vaccine, so folks will have to take at least three flu shots to be protected this year."

The CDC has identified the most vulnerable groups it recommends get the H1N1 vaccination. Those include pregnant women, household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months old, health care and emergency medical services professionals, all people from 6 months through 24 years old and people 25 through 64 years old who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

Georgia residents will soon begin hearing more about the upcoming flu season and vaccinations through the "Roll Up Your Sleeve" campaign to inform people of the vaccine availability for both seasonal and H1N1 pandemic strains of flu. Officials urge everyone to practice good hygiene habits to prevent the spread of the flu. Also, the following groups are recommended to get H1N1 flu shots as soon as vaccines become available.

· Pregnant women

· Household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age

· Health care and emergency medical services personnel

· All people from 6 months through 24 years of age

· Persons aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

More information is available at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu and www.dch.georgia.gov.