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First swine flu death reported in Georgia

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A Cobb County woman is the first Georgian to die from the novel H1N1 virus commonly known as the swine flu, state health officials said Friday.

The Georgia Department of Community Health reported that the 43-year-old victim suffered from "underlying health conditions" which contributed to her death. The woman's name was not immediately released.

Don Ash, Henry County's emergency management director, said local government officials are taking steps to deal with the threat of the H1N1 virus, to ensure the safety of county residents.

The Henry County Board of Commissioners approved the acceptance this week of $5,000 from the Department of Human Resources' District Four Health Services in LaGrange. Ash said the funds will facilitate more effective management of virus outbreaks at the local level.

"Henry County was impacted by multiple cases" of swine flu earlier this year, he said. "District Four has provided funds for us ... as we ramp up what we do. We're using those funds to enhance our ability to manage incidents, through our Emergency Operations Center."

According to Ash, the money will go toward the purchase of computer equipment and technology.

"We are working to change our conference area into more of an operational control point, where we can manage different events," said Ash. "If we have an event, the district health department will come in and we'll provide space to them as part of our partnership."

Ash said the funds come at a crucial time, as rumors of a "second wave" of the H1N1 virus continue to circulate throughout the state and the country.

"We're just being proactive in our ability to respond if the flu does hit Georgia, or hit the nation or hit Henry County," said Ash. "We have some tools in place to help us manage that event, and ultimately, to make sure we're able to respond to the needs of the citizens."

The Department of Community Health issued a written statement regarding the fatal flu case Friday. In the release, Commissioner and Acting Director Dr. Rhonda Medows said the virus is responsible for a growing number of deaths nationwide. "Although most of the individuals who have contracted the ... virus so far have had mild to moderate symptoms, this viral illness has claimed 170 lives in other states throughout the country," Medows said.

Georgia has confirmed 143 cases of H1N1, the department said. The illness has been seen most commonly in children and young adults, the department said, noting outbreaks in schools, child care centers and residential camps. Health officials said complications from the virus are most common in children and adults with underlying medical conditions, and pregnant women.

For more information about H1N1, visit www.ready.georgia.gov.