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Flu comes early
Doctor: Medical scene may be hectic when season hits
Flu photo
State Health Lab technician Heather Bickley tests samples for H1N1 flu Thursday at the Arizona State Health Lab in Phoenix. - photo by Associated Press
    Face masks, waiting lists for vaccines, and crowded waiting rooms — and it's not even "flu" season yet. What will happen when the current H1N1 flu epidemic meets "normal" flu season?
        Dr. Michael Deal, pediatrician with East Georgia Pediatrics, said Tuesday things could be hectic on the medical scene if the H1N1 activity is still strong when "regular" flu season arrives later in the year.
    With a new name — "novel influenza A," the H1N1 flu virus, as well as seasonal influenza viruses "continue to be identified in communities all across Southeast Georgia," said Roger Naylor,  public relations and information coordinator for the Southeast Health District.
    “We expect to see these illnesses continue for sometime,”  he said.  “We know the flu, whether it is seasonal or novel H1N1, is in our communities. That's why it is so important for everyone to take the necessary precautions to prevent its spread.”
    Deal said his office has seen "quite a bit" of the H1N1 virus. "We have had a fair number of children with Influenza A ... with more and more cases each week." Just because a patient has Influenza A,  does not mean the virus is the H1N1, also known as swine flu.
    He said the number of flu cases being seen currently would not be unusual if it were flu season., but is unusual for this time of year. and when flu season arrives?
    "I have my concerns," he said. "I think it's going to be quite busy — with both flu viruses, extremely busy."
    Georgia Southern University has seen a slight decline in students and faculty with flu like illness, said spokesperson Betsy Nolan.
    But there are still unusually high numbers of students with flu for this time of year. The university health center has requested vaccines for the H1N1 flu virus, and is awaiting word from the state as to how many vaccines will be available, as well as when  they will be delivered, she said.
    Season flu clinics will be held beginning next month, which is a normal procedure for the university, she said. There will be a limited number of vaccines, on a first come, first served basis.
Precautions to avoid flu
    Previously referred to as “swine flu,” novel H1N1 is a new strain of flu virus, Naylor said. "Like seasonal flu, it spreads mainly from person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people."
    Infection can also occur when someone touches something with the flu virus on it and then touches their mouth or nose.
    Symptoms of novel H1N1 flu are also similar to seasonal flu and  include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with  novel H1N1 also experience runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and  diarrhea, he said.
    The Bulloch County Health Department is working closely with the local school system  and other community partners to monitor flu activity, he said. There are no seasonal flu vaccines at this time, but they should be available to the public  in the coming  weeks, according to Naylor. Novel H1N1 flu vaccines could be available to residents as early as mid-October.
     “Right now, we are waiting on our seasonal flu vaccine to arrive," he said. "However, we do not know for sure how much novel H1N1 vaccine we will be  getting or when it will come. How much novel H1N1 vaccine we receive will determine who will be recommended to get it  first.”
    There are precautions that can help prevent contracting the flu virus. Deal recommends common-sense measures, such as staying away from people with flu like symptoms and washing hands.
    Nolan said the university has taken proactive measures since May, when the swine flu first appeared. Signs are posted all over campus reminding people to wash their hands and giving directions to hand sanitizing stations and restrooms.
    Custodial staff use extra precautions in cleaning, and use cleaners designed to kill the flu virus, especially in common areas, she said.
    Naylor reminds citizens to wash hands frequently for at least 20  seconds with soap and water; before eating, after going to the bathroom, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective, he said.
    He suggested covering coughs and sneezes,  preferably with your elbows or a tissue and properly disposing the used tissue. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way, he said.
    "If you or your child is sick and/or has a fever, please stay  home and limit contact with others to keep from spreading the infection," he said. "Those who are fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medicine  may return to work or school."
    For the most current  information about novel H1N1 visit the Southeast Health District web site  at or the CDC Web site at 
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414.
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