Ga. stockpiles antivirals to prepare for swine flu

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 4:49 PM
Last updated Friday, Jan. 8, 2010 1:25 PM
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ATLANTA — State officials say they are preparing for a possible outbreak of swine flu even though no cases have been discovered in Georgia as of Tuesday.

The state has purchased enough medicine for 460,000 people and requested enough for another 355,000 from the state’s share of the national strategic stockpile. The federal government has put aside enough in the stockpile for 1.3 million Georgians at no cost to the state.

The State Department of Education sent local superintendents information about preventative hygiene. Georgia’s hospitals dusted off the pandemic flu plans each drafted three to five years ago and began informing their staffs of when a set of symptoms should be suspect.

And Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law House Bill 217, which allows druggists and nurses to dispense flu medications.

What the state hasn’t done is consider closing any schools or activating its emergency command center.

“We are asking that the public maintain some level of calm,” said Dr. Elizabeth Ford, acting director of the Georgia Division of Public Health in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

The state has tested four cases from metro Atlanta that made experts suspicious, and none turned out to be positive.

The clues are fever, muscle aches, sometimes vomiting and nausea as well as either having traveled in the last seven days to a site of the disease or contact with someone who has. Simple sniffles aren’t sufficient.

“We have already had a flood of people who have allergies going to the doctors and emergency rooms,” said registered nurse Denise Flook, coordinator of workforce and infection-prevention initiative with the Georgia Hospital Association.

In a typical year, roughly 36,000 Americans die from the flu. So far none have died from swine flu in this country, though 68 cases have been confirmed.

What is keeping state officials concerned is that this version of the flu is a mix of three types — swine, avian and human — in a combination that no one has built internal defenses to through past exposure, notes Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of preparedness in the Georgia Division of Public Health.

“When you have that much instability to a virus, you have to be alert that it could change over time,” he said, adding that a change could make it milder or stronger. “It’s that uncertainty related to human, pig and bird that makes us a bit nervous about it.”

Mock virus outbreak drills on the state and local level have given officials some confidence. Still, during the legislative session that ended earlier this month, Mr. Perdue requested $7 million for the extra flu medicine and legislation to give him additional powers to declare a state of emergency for health reasons.

Since 1990, the state has activated its emergency operations center 22 times — all weather related, and hosted the Olympics and G-8 Summit, according to Buzz Weiss, spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. But it has never engaged for a health-related emergency, other than the cleanup of the Tri-State Crematory when hundreds of bodies were not properly disposed of.

“In terms of planning and preparedness, we have done as much as we could expect for one of these cases,” he said.

On the web:

Georgia Division of Public Health www.health.state.ga.us

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/mitigation.htm

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