By Johnny Jackson
Eagle's Landing Christian Academy could be closed for the next two weeks, school officials said, after tests confirmed a middle school student there was infected with the H1N1 influenza virus.
Health officials announced the confirmed case of the virus, known as swine flu, on Monday.
Found in a 14-year-old middle school student, the flu case is Georgia's latest confirmed case and one of several recently sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing.
"We were expecting the number of cases testing positive for H1N1 to increase. So, we are not surprised," said Sandra Elizabeth Ford, acting director of the Georgia Division of Public Health.
She said school and public health officials decided Sunday to close the school, per CDC guidelines, as a precautionary measure for what, then, was a suspected case of the H1N1 virus. On Monday, public health officials confirmed the student had H1N1.
Public health officials said the Eagle's Landing student had developed flu-like symptoms as early as April 27 and, at some point, consulted with a private physician.
Initially, health officials said they suspected the student had contracted the flu from his 12-year-old sister, who fell ill sometime around the school's spring break.
"They [the sister and brother] have no history of travel themselves, but some students at the school traveled to Panama during their spring break," said Ford.
According to Eagle's Landing Christian Academy President Tim Dowdy, the sister, who was not tested for H1N1, fell ill between March 9 and 13, a month prior to the school's Panama mission trip April 3-10.
"I have talked to the mother of the sick student, who is doing well and feeling better," Dowdy wrote in a letter to parents Monday. "I want to stress that the CDC recommended school closure as a preventative measure against the potential spread of H1N1."
Dowdy said the school will be cleaned during the time it is closed "[but] the cleaning of the building has no bearing on the school closure as the virus is predominantly transmitted from person to person and is reportedly not viable on surfaces after 48 hours."
Dowdy said members of the community should check the school web site for updates and information about the school closure. He said the school had not been told when it can reopen, but noted the CDC recommends 14 days for such closures.
"As a group of parents, we're glad that the school has taken precautions the way they have," said Kaye Thomas, the parent of an elementary school student at Eagle's Landing. "I'm certainly concerned about the time that they're going to be spending away from school. And really, I think the only way to stop it is to separate the students for a period of time. I think this too shall pass like any other virus."
According to public health officials, the incubation period for H1N1 is between two and five days, while the infectious period for H1N1 is up to seven days. However, the infectious period for children can last up to 10 days.
"This is only our second confirmed case in the state," Ford said of the Henry County case. "This is the first [confirmed] pediatric case in the state of Georgia."
According to the CDC's web site, a Kentucky woman has been hospitalized in Georgia with a confirmed case of H1N1.
Ford said two other probable pediatric flu cases include a 3-year-old boy from Cobb County, who may have had contact with an individual who recently traveled to Mexico, and an 8-year-old in Clayton County, who may have contracted the virus while attending school in Mexico.
Another suspected case, involving a 36-year-old pregnant woman from DeKalb County, is also pending. Ford said the woman, who had flu-like symptoms, refused anti-viral medication to treat her condition, but is doing well.
"None of these cases [involving Georgia residents] have been hospitalized," Ford said. "All cases, at this point, appear to be clinically well. None of them are at the stage where they would need to be hospitalized. We're very fortunate."
Eagle's Landing parent Candi Cygan was surprised to learn that Georgia's only confirmed pediatric case, as of Monday, was so close in proximity to her family. She said she is also concerned about the 14 days children will not be at school.
"I'm glad they're taking precautions," Cygan said. "I was really shocked that the only other case reported so far came from our school. We're just concerned about how it's going to affect the end of the year. I know they have days built in [for school closures], but for 14, I'm sure they don't."
Public school systems in Henry and Clayton counties have each issued statements about the flu outbreak, stating that neither have reported cases of H1N1.
The Clayton County Public Schools web site encourages parents and guardians to keep their children home should they have flu-like symptoms.
"We're watching and we're being cautious," said Connie Rutherford, Henry County Schools' spokeswoman. "We're encouraging parents to seek help from their primary health care provider if their child has flu-like symptoms."
Rutherford said school system officials have been participating in conference calls with District 4 public health, police, fire, and emergency management officials.
"What we're doing is providing logistic support to the health department at the county level as well as the district level," said Don Ash, Henry County's Emergency Management director. "And we're encouraging our community to pay close attention to the guidance that's been provided."
On Monday, the Henry County Emergency Management Agency was involved in providing additional security for Eagle's Landing Christian Academy in the form of Henry County sheriff's deputies.
"The main message is that we're trying to promote healthy behaviors to help avoid the spread of the flu," added District 4 Public Health spokeswoman Phyllis Turner. "This can be done by washing your hands, covering the mouth and nose when you sneeze and avoiding contact with any [person] that has been exposed."
On the net:
Eagle's Landing Christian Academy: www.elcaonline.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu