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Officials urge preparation for seasonal illnesses

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

As the new school year gets underway, officials are urging families to take steps to prevent seasonal illnesses, including the flu.

"By the second week of school, kids start to get the symptoms of rhinovirus, which is a common cold virus," said Rayasam Prasad, an allergist and medical doctor at Allergy and Asthma Specialists in Stockbridge. "As soon as kids go back to school, they can begin to show asthma symptoms and upper respiratory issues."

Prasad said he has seen several school-aged children in recent days, including 7-year-old Jarron Williams, who is asthmatic and also suffers from some allergies.

Seasonal allergies, according to Prasad, can aggravate illnesses created by viruses like the ones that cause the common cold. He said the major cause of allergies this time of year is rag weed, which affects children with asthma and may make them more susceptible to airborne viruses.

He said it is important children get properly medicated for their seasonal allergies and get vaccinated for diseases, because children who catch viruses at school can infect younger children at home.

School-aged children, like Jarron Williams, a second-grader at a private school in Stockbridge, must be current in vaccinations for diseases like diphtheria and poliomyelitis, in order to temper the spread of viruses, Prasad added.

For instance, students in the Henry County Public School System are required to provide a certificate of immunization or an affidavit affirming a conflict with religious beliefs, according to school system policy. The school system requires documentation for immunization against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles, rubella, and mumps.

Georgia Department of Community Health officials are urging residents to be current and up-to-date on immunizations as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends that children 6 months to 18 years of age receive seasonal flu vaccinations yearly.

"As Georgians prepare for the upcoming influenza season, and our youth return to school and college, it is imperative that residents protect themselves, their families and their communities by following the recommended vaccination schedules for children and adults," said Michelle Conner, director for infectious disease and immunizations with the Georgia Public Health Division.

Various vaccines are recommended for children, adolescents, and adults, according to the state Department of Community Health, but most vaccines are given during the first five to six years of life.

"Vaccines are safe and offer effective protection from infectious diseases, which is especially important as we face the imminent threat of a pandemic," Conner said.

She said health officials are currently preparing to address both the seasonal flu and the novel Type A flu virus, known as H1N1.

CDC officials expect the novel H1N1 vaccine should be available this fall.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that certain groups be given priority in receiving the novel H1N1 vaccine when it first becomes available, including: pregnant women, those who live with, or care for, children younger than 6 months of age, and health-care and emergency-services personnel.

The committee also identified, as priority groups, those between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old, and people between the ages of 25 and 64, who are at higher risk for novel H1N1, due to chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

To learn more about seasonal allergies, seasonal flu and novel H1N1, visit the CDC's web site. The web site also includes immunization schedules for children, adolescents, and adults.

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On the net:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.CDC.gov