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Local officials keep eye on flu outbreak
East Metro Health District: No need for 'undue' alarm

CONYERS - Local health and school officials continue to keep a cautious eye on the spread of swine flu, particularly after a woman was admitted to the hospital in LaGrange for the disease.

"Interest in the Mexican swine flu is ramping up fast," said Vernon Goins, spokesman for the East Metro Health District that covers Rockdale, Newton and Gwinnett counties. "We have already communicated with the East Metro Health District's medical providers, the schools, government leaders, nursing homes, day care centers and other institutions about accessing and reviewing their pandemic flu operational plans."

He said the Health District is making this

recommendation because the World Health Organization's raised its alert level to Phase 5.

"This is the last stage before a full-scale pandemic," Goins said.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and government officials, eight swine flu-related deaths have been confirmed in Mexico but about 160 more are suspected. A 23-month-old boy from Mexico who died in Texas is also believed to have been infected. Swine flu has been reported in Canada, Spain, Britain, Germany, New Zealand, Israel, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands.

The CDC and state officials have confirmed cases of the swine flu in New York, Texas, California, South Carolina, Kansas, Massachusetts, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, Michigan, New Jersey, Delaware, Maine, Colorado and Nevada. Several schools around the country have closed.

The case in Georgia was confirmed Thursday when a 30-year-old woman from Warren County in Kentucky fell ill during a trip to west Georgia. Dr. Elizabeth Ford, head of Georgia's Division of Public Health, said at a news conference that the woman had traveled to Cancun, Mexico, earlier this month and returned April 21. The woman then went home to Kentucky before traveling to Georgia for a social function.

The woman was admitted to West Georgia Medical System in LaGrange on Sunday with flu-like symptoms, according to medical system president and CEO Jerry Fulks.

Even though the cases of swine flu appear to be increasing rapidly, Goins and other local officials stress there is no need for panic.

"We don't want the public to be unduly alarmed," he said. "We need for everyone to pay attention to the messages being sent out by public health at this time."

Goins said a wealth of preparatory information is on the Health District's Web site, www.eastmetrohealth.com, and includes things the general public can do to protect themselves from contracting this new strain of flu.

The Newton County School System is staying in close contact with the East Metro Health District and disseminating information to school administrators, teachers and parents as it come available.

"We are closely monitoring the information being released from the CDC and our local agencies, including our local Health Department and Newton County EMA," said Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for the NCSS.

"We will also be participating in a conference call tomorrow morning with the East Metro Health District. The main topic of the call will be how swine flu will affect the schools in Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale." she said.

Viniard said the school system has posted general information about swine flu on the NCSS homepage at www.newtoncountyschools.org to keep parents and the general public updated. The site also lists preventive measures and includes additional informational links on the flu. She said posters with prevention techniques from the CDC Web site will be posted in English and Spanish in all schools.

Sharon Barbour, spokeswoman for Newton Medical Center, said the emergency department has seen no uptick in the number of patients seeking care. She said when patients with flu-like symptoms are seen in the emergency room the diagnosis receives immediate attention.

"They will be screened and the epidemiologist picks up the specimens every morning and we receive a report back within 24 hours," she said.

Barbour said symptoms consistent with flu include fever, respiratory tract illness such as cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, muscle aches and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

"These symptoms come all together and they hit suddenly," she said. "It's a sudden-onset illness."

Of course, preventing the illness in the first place is the primary goal, and Barbour reiterated the oft-heard recommendation of frequent hand-washing.

"The No. 1 thing to do is wash your hands often with soap and warm water. The alcohol-based cleaners are also effective," she said. "You should wash your hands especially after you touch things other people touch like shopping carts, door handles or elevator buttons. Take your hand sanitizer with you. We need to be doing these things all the time, but especially now. The main thing is, don't panic. Just use your common sense."

Barbour also recommended that people should always cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they sneeze.

"And then throw the tissue away. Don't leave it lying around on a counter or your desk," she said, adding that anyone who has flu-like symptoms should not go to work or school due to the risk of infecting others.

Citizen News Editor Barbara Knowles and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Aimee Jones can be reached at aimee.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.