Swine flu hits Georgia
Health official: 'No reason to panic'

LAWRENCEVILLE - With one case of swine flu confirmed Thursday in Georgia, public health officials said it is likely the virus will spread to other parts of the state, including Gwinnett County.

At this point, there's "absolutely no reason to panic," said Vernon Goins, spokesman for the East Metro Health District, which serves Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton counties.

"What we're encouraging everyone to do is to start learning about it (swine flu) and to pay close attention to the public notices from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state and local public health agencies," Goins said.

Swine flu, or H1N1 influenza A, has symptoms nearly identical to regular flu - fever, cough and sore throat - and spreads like regular flu, through tiny particles in the air, when people cough or sneeze, according to the Associated Press. The CDC has confirmed 109 cases in the United States, with the majority of cases in New York, Texas, California and South Carolina.

"Basic hygiene - washing your hands and don't cough and sneeze in the air - is becoming imperative," Goins said.

Health officials recommend people frequently wash their hands for about 15 seconds, or the length of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday."

"Hand washing is a mechanical removal of germs, so water temperature isn't as important as how long one washes," Goins said. "Tepid water helps in soaping up the hands."

Although there were rumors the swine flu had been reported in neighboring Barrow County, only one case - that of a 30-year-old Kentucky woman who traveled to Cancun on April 17 and then to Georgia on April 23 - had been confirmed Thursday afternoon. The woman was admitted to a hospital Sunday in LaGrange after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Her family members and traveling companions, including her daughter who rode with her for several hours in a car, still have no evidence of infection.

Only the state public health lab can confirm a positive test for swine flu, according to a news release from the Northeast Health District, which includes Barrow County. A total of 48 specimens from all areas of Georgia have been sent to the Georgia Public Health laboratory for confirmation of swine flu; 23 were negative, and 24 are pending. Specimens are sent to the lab by health practitioners if the patient tests positive for influenza A and has traveled to Mexico.

"At this point, Georgia stands in a very, very good position," said Steven Dumpert, risk coordinator for the Northeast Health District Office of Emergency Preparedness. "It makes logical sense that there may be (more confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza A), simply because we are examining all influenza cases and trying to type them ... but it does not appear this is the rapid-fire infection people are imagining this is going to be.

"It appears that the swine flu is very threatening because we're putting a magnifying glass on this situation," Dumpert added.

Barrow County Schools Superintendent Ron Saunders said the district is in constant contact with the health department and has posted information about the swine flu on its Web site, www.barrow.k12.ga.us.

"It is affecting us in that people are on edge," Saunders wrote in an e-mail. "Rumors are ruling the day. We are getting some calls here at the PDC (Professional Development Center), and I am sure the schools are as well. We try to reassure the callers that no one has been identified in Barrow County as having the swine flu."

Gwinnett County Public Schools plans to send letters home today to parents about the virus.

"As a precaution, we want to share some basic information with you about swine flu, how we're responding and what you can do as well, because your child's health and safety are our top concerns," the letter states.

The school system's teachers and nurses will contact the health department if they see any students with flu-like symptoms, the letter states.

For updated information about the swine flu, visit the East Metro Health District Web site at www.eastmetrohealth.com or the Northeast Health District Web site at www.publichealthathens.com.