Midstate told to be cautious about swine flu

Loraine Bass is heading for Mexico next month.

Despite growing concern over a swine flu outbreak that has killed about 149 people there, Bass, a Warner Robins travel agent, still is planning on making her late-May trip to Playa del Carmen near Cozumel.

“I feel like I’m just as safe there as I am here,” Bass said after checking travel advisories.

As of midday Monday, only one customer, a Cancun-bound client, had called her wanting to know if it was still all right to visit Mexico.

As tourism-industry officials braced for the outbreak’s possible worldwide economic implications, here in the midstate, public-health workers were encouraging locals to be mindful of flu-like symptoms but not to panic, either.

Though there are no known cases in Georgia, Karen Ebey-Tessendorf, the emergency preparedness director for the state’s North Central Health District, said, “It’s likely that there will be.”

Area health and community leaders have been developing a flu-outbreak contingency plan over the past three years, she said. Were a severe outbreak to hit the region, Ebey-Tessendorf said, “it would take a lot of cooperation from the public to limit the spread.”

For now, common sense is about the best measure people can take to ward off infection, she said.

“We certainly are recommending that people practice good hygiene. I mean, we all need to do that anyway, the frequent hand washing. If you need to cough or sneeze, use a tissue or use your sleeve. Don’t use your hand,” Ebey-Tessendorf said. “If people are sick ... they do not need to be going to school or work.”

Monday afternoon, Macon’s chief administrative officer, Thomas Thomas, told City Council members that he is gathering previously developed flu pandemic plans for review with the mayor and public safety personnel.

He said the city stays in contact with state health officials through the Macon-Bibb Emergency Management Agency.

Writer Matt Barnwell contributed to this report.