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School closed by swine
flu to reopen Thursday

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The Henry County private school shut down after turning up the second reported swine flu case in Georgia will reopen later this week, a school official said.

Eagle's Landing Christian Academy was closed Monday based on recommendations, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to close the school for a period of about 14 days related to a 14-year-old student at the school with a confirmed case of the H1N1 flu virus.

The closure would have meant a suspension of extra-curricular activities as well, according to Tim Dowdy, president of the McDonough private school.

Dowdy said he learned Tuesday from officials with the CDC and the Georgia Department of Human Resources he could reopen the school on Thursday.

"We're thrilled with the news that we can reopen and the threat of this strain of virus was not as severe as we thought," he said. "We're thankful for it."

Dowdy said the school has increased its efforts to inform parents and students of good hygienic practices, in an effort to help prevent the spread of viruses like H1N1.

"We shifted our recommendations based on the ailments," said Llelwyn Grant, a CDC spokesman. "We recommended that schools consider closing to lessen the risk of spreading the virus. Since then, what we're seeing are milder cases of seasonally-type influenza."

Grant said new recommendations focus on identifying personnel or students who are ill and encouraging them to stay at home. The recommendations also reiterate the use of good personal hygiene, like covering one's mouth when coughing and sneezing, and frequent hand washing.

"It spreads like other flu viruses you see mostly during the winter time," said Jim Barlow, an emergency room physician at Henry Medical Center in Stockbridge. "People are more confined and their going from hot to cold and cold to hot sort of blunts their immune system, and makes it sort of hard to fight viruses."

Henry Medical Center has had no reported cases of H1N1, hospital officials said Tuesday.

Barlow said infectious illnesses aren't as prevalent in the spring, "because people are out and they are not as confined as much.

"You still see bad colds, but I'm not sure if there would be a predominate illness this time of year. We start seeing more injuries this time of year."

Barlow said H1N1 had not been prevalent in the United State before recently and will likely fade away during the summer months but resurface next winter.

"I think a lot of the concern is coming from the mortality rates being reported out of Mexico," he said. "People who have gotten the flu here and have been identified with it, those cases have not been too serious here."

Barlow said he believes there are more unreported flu cases because the symptoms are mild.

"[But] just like any year, we'll see a significant increase every time it starts to get cold again," he added. "H1N1 will resurface."

He said the increased focus on H1N1 may be the result of the virus not being as prevalent in the country as other strains of flu. He said the CDC, for instance, has not developed an H1N1 vaccine.

Grant, of the CDC, confirmed the production process for an H1N1 vaccine is not underway. The vaccine is currently in the development process, he said.

"For the upcoming flu season, we will look at the southern hemisphere to see what's happening in their flu season," Grant said. "If we find that they are dealing with the novel H1N1 virus, we will pursue a supplemental vaccine to counter-act the H1N1 virus."

Health officials are encouraging the treatment of the illness with anti-viral medication, over-the-counter medication, drinking plenty of fluids and bed rest.

"Primarily, we're asking folks to do self-preventative things," Grant added. "The big thing that we are stressing is that if any individual presents flu-like symptoms that they should self-isolate and monitor their condition for the next seven days."