Flu response plan approved by Bibb County officials

Bibb County officials approved Thursday a flu pandemic preparation and response plan as the World Health Organization raised its alert level to indicate a pandemic may be imminent.

This never-seen-before strain of the swine flu is “probably going to be coming soon to Bibb County,” said Ecleamus Ricks, administrator of the Macon-Bibb County Health Department. The first case of swine flu was confirmed in Georgia on Thursday.

“If you have symptoms or anyone in your family has symptoms, stay home ... and see your physician,” Ricks warned at a news conference in the county courthouse.

The plan, adopted by the Bibb County Pandemic Flu Committee, includes information about actions that will be taken in each phase of a possible pandemic and how each agency will react. The committee includes local government, health-care, law enforcement and Emergency Management Agency officials.

During Phase 5, the second-highest level already declared by the World Health Organization, agencies should be educating staff and residents and preparing individual response plans, according to the document.

That process already has begun to be implemented, and informational fliers about the flu will soon be distributed in schools and other public places, including fire stations, sheriff’s substations and possibly libraries, said Commissioner Bert Bivins, the committee’s chairman.

“We need everybody in the community to make this work,” he said.

During the highest level, Phase 6, agencies would be on alert, monitor the situation, ensure proper communication and continue to educate the public, according to the plan.

Depending on the severity of the pandemic, plans also exist to close schools, theaters, churches and other places where crowds gather. Public gatherings, such as sporting events or concerts, also could be canceled.

Spring high school sports playoffs already have been postponed in Alabama and Texas to limit the spread of the flu. The Georgia High School Association — the body that oversees most high school athletes in the state — has no plans to do that at this time, said Steve Figueroa, a GHSA spokesman.

“Somebody would have to shut down schools first before we would do anything,” he said. “Our playoffs are well under way. We hope it won’t be an issue, but we’re watching it.”

The reason officials are concerned about the swine flu possibly becoming a pandemic is because it’s a previously unidentified strain of the flu, and no one is immune to it, said Dr. David Harvey, North Central Health District director. About 36,000 people nationwide die from seasonal flu-related causes each year.

Without a vaccine, the potential number of deaths from the swine flu is much greater, he said.

While swine flu is not uniformly fatal, the sooner people know the symptoms and receive health care, the better off they will be, he said.

Swine flu symptoms are about the same as seasonal flu — body aches, muscle pain, fever and chills, headache, dry cough and a runny or stuffy nose. But unlike seasonal flu, where usually only the very young and very old are the most at risk, everyone is susceptible, Harvey said.

A pandemic outbreak usually will last six to eight weeks in an affected community, according to the response plan.

The Pandemic Flu Committee has been meeting since 2006 when the state Division of Public Health instructed counties to create committees to deal with a possible pandemic relating to the bird flu.

The plan was written in May 2008. While it was informally accepted at the time, it was not formally adopted until now, Bivins said.

The Associated Press and Telegraph staff writer Jonathan Heeter contributed to this report.

To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.