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Virus here, time to plan

It’s here. And officials say it’s time to prepare, not panic.

The H1N1 virus, formerly known as the swine flu, is in Bryan County, according to Susan Malone with the Coastal Health District. Malone addressed a room full of local leaders Tuesday afternoon during a conference aimed to review the local plan for dealing with the H1N1 pandemic.

Malone said there is no need to panic because "generally H1N1 doesn’t make people as sick as the regular flu does."

Malone said there has been at least one confirmed case here, and it is unknown how many Bryan County residents have carried or are currently infected with the H1N1 virus. This is because, as of the end of June, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) stopped requiring that each case be reported. Instead, a different plan of action has been recommended: prevention and vaccination.

H1N1 vaccines are anticipated to arrive here within the month, although no specific date has been given. There are two forms – a shot and a nasal spray. Both must be delivered by a qualified medical professional.

Some local pharmacies will carry the vaccine as well as the Bryan County Health Department. Emergency Services Director Jim Anderson said two points of distribution (PODs) will be set up for Bryan County vaccinations – one at the old Kroger site and the other at Hendrix Park.

Lori Gaylor, a physician's assistant at the Urgent Care Center of Richmond Hill who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said her clinic has been flooded with flu victims who may have H1N1. She said the patients she has seen match the national trend, which is recovery after four days.

"We’ve had tons of people test positively for Type A influenza, and the CDC tells us that 99 percent of Type A are H1N1," Gaylor said. "It started in late summer and has been consistent ever since … The main thing is not to panic. The excitement attached to H1N1 is based on the fact that it has spread so quickly. Generally, it is pretty mild, but there is still that level of unpredictability because it is so new and it is unclear how it has resulted in death in some cases."

The CDC estimates that over one million estimated that more than one million people became ill with novel H1N1 flu between April and June 2009 in the United States.

Out of those, approximately 300 have died.

Georgia is one of 26 states where influenza activity is reported to be widespread at this time. This is considered irregular and attributed to H1N1 because flu season doesn’t even start until Oct. 4.

Skip Youmans, director of the Bryan County Health Department, said the Bryan County School system should be applauded for efforts regarding the pandemic. McGrath, with the BoE, said that "it’s probably safer at school than it is at home due to all the precautions we are taking."

This includes mandated hand washing by teachers, sanitizing doorknobs and various equipment and spraying Lysol into the air.

"Our schools are way ahead of the curve and as ready as they can be," Youmans said.

The nasal spray vaccines are expected to arrive next week, and the shots are expected to come shortly thereafter.

Malone said the quantity is unclear, but she is hopeful it will be enough to supply the eight-county Coastal Health District.

"After Christmas, there will be enough for everyone to get vaccinated," Malone said. "Before then, we are targeting the groups that are most at risk."

Malone said applying recipients for vaccinations will not be turned away, but it is crucial to vaccine those carrying the biggest risk as determined by H1N1 statistics gathered thus far.

This includes pregnant women, children under six months of age and healthcare workers/EMS personnel.

A date has not been announced for when H1N1 vaccinations will be available in the county.

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