Midstate dealing with cases of suspected swine flu

People you know are probably going to get swine flu this fall, and reports of suspected mini-outbreaks already are popping up in the midstate and across Georgia.

Georgia College & State University sent about seven students home Tuesday and Wednesday with flulike symptoms, and the university is planning student forums to talk about prevention and treatment.

Georgia Tech in Atlanta has reported 100 suspected cases and the University of Georgia about 60. Both schools expected those numbers to rise as the flu season hits.

There are spotty reports of flu symptoms at area public schools, including in Bibb County, where the school system sent letters to parents at several schools that detailed suspected cases there.

But given that swine flu, or H1N1, comes with the same basic symptoms as the regular seasonal flu, confirmations are difficult — so much so that public health officials are only testing for them now if a patient is hospitalized.

So far more than 100 people have been hospitalized in Georgia and four deaths have been reported, according to Georgia Department of Community Health figures.

The World Health Organization has already characterized this flu as a pandemic. By definition, “that means that it is all over,” said Jennifer Jones, spokeswoman for the state’s North Central Health District, which includes most of Middle Georgia.

Vaccines are in production and expected to roll out in October and November. State and local officials are working on plans for mass vaccinations against H1N1, as well as the regular seasonal flu. Federal guidelines call for prioritized groups to be first in line. That means pregnant women, children, emergency personnel and those at high risk, among others.

In the meantime, public officials say the advice is simple: Wash your hands often. Watch for symptoms. If you or your child has flulike symptoms, particularly a fever, stay home. The federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta recommends staying home as long as the fever continues, then for for 24 hours after the fever breaks. And that’s 24 fever-free hours without aspirin or other medication to reduce the fever, officials said.

If the symptoms are severe or you are at high risk for flu complications, the CDC recommends seeking medical care. But the center’s online fact sheet on H1N1 says “it is expected that most people will recover without needing medical care.”

Local schools said they’re following state and federal guidelines, which basically means they’re encouraging sick students to go home.

The Bibb County system has reported suspected H1N1 cases at Northeast High School, Howard Middle School, Porter Elementary School and Skyview Elementary School. The Skyview case was discovered Wednesday afternoon after students had gone home, so letters to parents will go out today, a system spokesman said.

Peach County reported three suspected cases: one at Peach County High School and a pair of siblings from the Hunt Primary school building. Jones County reported no suspected cases, and Monroe County said it’s had a few suspected cases.

“I think probably every case of the flu is suspected,” Monroe County Assistant Superintendent Jackson Daniel said. “It’s just kind of the nature of the beast.”

Macon State College and Mercer University haven’t reported any suspected cases. Fort Valley State University reported one and said that student is staying at home with her parents for the time being.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.