July 1, 2009 - Southwest Georgia Health District Confirms H1N1 Spread

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 4-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 U.S. 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 comingle 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 website, www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.

    

August 10, 2009 - Albany Man 1st Area H1N1 Fatality

An Albany area man in his 60s is the first patient in the Southwest Health District’s 14 counties and the third resident of Georgia who has died from Pandemic H1N1, says Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.

“With great sorrow, we acknowledge complications from the novel influenza virus H1N1 have claimed the life of a member of our community,” Grant said. “We offer our sympathy to the individual’s loved ones.”

The older adult had underlying health conditions and had been hospitalized prior to his death on Friday, she said.

No other patients in the District are currently hospitalized with confirmed cases of H1N1, noted Grant, although nine hospitalizations (including the deceased patient), have occurred since the infection began spreading through Georgia earlier this year. A Cobb County woman who died in July was the state’s first fatality linked to H1N1. Late last week, another Cobb County resident became the state’s second confirmed H1N1 fatality.

“We have been concerned that this infection could result in severe illness, particularly in high-risk groups, which include children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems or chronic diseases,” Grant said. “We cannot emphasize enough how important it is for everyone to practice cough and sneezing etiquette, to wash your hands thoroughly and to stay home if you are sick. Taking these three actions are our best protection to keep H1N1 from spreading.”

Once seasonal flu vaccine becomes available, it will also play a key role in combating the pandemic’s spread, she added.

“We are expecting the seasonal flu vaccine to be out earlier than usual this year, maybe as early as late this month or early September,” Grant said. “As soon as it is available, we recommend people begin getting vaccinated.”

A vaccine for H1N1 is unlikely to be ready until mid-October at the earliest, she said.

Current information is available from your health department and online at www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org and www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.