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H1N1 is here, officials say
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Timing perhaps could not be worse with school coming back into session, but Novel H1N1 Influenza, formerly known as swine flu, has reportedly been detected in some area youth, according to a press release from the Coastal Health District.

The flu reportedly has been confirmed in local youth that recently attended a summer camp in Sumter, South Carolina the week of July 19-24. Attendees from the camp included a group of middle and high school students, adult counselors, and volunteers from Chatham, Effingham, and Bryan counties.

"There’s no need to panic," said Dr. Diane Weems, Chief Medical Officer for the Coastal Health District. "Although this is new to the Coastal Health District, these kinds of outbreaks at summer camps have been happening around the state."

Weems said although H1N1 has been declared a pandemic, it is not common for serious symptoms to occur. She said generally the symptoms are relatively mild, and "those who have developed more serious symptoms have underlying risk factors."

Weems said the bigger threat with H1N1 lies in the potential for it to undergo a change in the genetic makeup of the virus "which could potentially make it a more serious disease."

The Chatham County Health Department received reports that several attendees showed signs of influenza-like illness during camp after returning home. The campers were tested, and it was confirmed they had contracted the H1N1 flu.

"Because we know that some of the campers were exposed to H1N1, it can be concluded that others were also exposed and contracted the virus," Weems said.

Weems said it is likely that H1N1 already existed in the area, just not reported.

"Everyone has to understand that in July, H1N1 was considered widespread," Weems said. "Not everyone that became ill saw a doctor and not everyone tested. It’s very difficult for us to say anything about the exact number of local individuals in our eight-county area, which can be said for the national level."

She said it is important for families to understand their shared responsibility and the role they can play in making cough and hand hygiene a priority in their homes. She said the virus is not airborne.

Basic precautions to prevent the spread of germs include:

- Sneezing into your elbow or cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw away the tissue after you use it.

- Washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

- Staying home if you get sick and limiting contact with others to keep from spreading the infection.

Symptoms of novel H1N1 flu are similar to that of seasonal flu and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with novel H1N1 flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of infected people; however, sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

Weems said a vaccine is in the process of being created, and she encourages everyone to be vaccinated when it becomes available.

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