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Students return to school closed by swine flu

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

State health officials verified late Thursday that there are eight probable, but unconfirmed, cases of the novel Type-A H1N1 influenza virus in Georgia. Four of the probable cases involve children in Henry and Clayton counties - two 13-year-old boys and a 6-year-old boy in Henry, and an 8-year-old Clayton County girl.

Officials would not say whether the probable cases are connected to other cases of H1N1, or where the probable cases originated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Monday that a 14-year-old private school student in McDonough had tested positive for H1N1. It is one of three such confirmations among Georgia residents, and resulted in the closing of his school, Eagle's Landing Christian Academy.

Reportedly, a Kentucky woman visiting the state also tested positive for H1N1.

Each of the state's probable cases, however, have been mild and have not involved hospitalization, according to Sandra Elizabeth Ford, acting director of the Georgia Division of Public Health.

Ford said the relatively milder cases of H1N1 have warranted a new testing protocol by the state and the CDC, which will limit the administration of H1N1 testing to those who have fallen ill enough to be hospitalized.

In Henry County, students at Eagle's Landing Christian Academy, which was closed by the virus known as the swine flu on Monday, returned to class on Thursday.

Jacob Lunsford, 18, a 12th-grader there, welcomed the chance to get back to normal.

"It kind of caught us by surprise, but we knew the [school] administration would handle it well," Lunsford said. "It wasn't anything we were happy about, but it wasn't anything we were worried about."

The McDonough-based private Christian school closed its doors Monday, per CDC recommendations after a 14-year-old student there tested positive for the virus in one of the earliest confirmed Georgia cases. The school reopened based on revised CDC recommendations.

The CDC's initial recommendation included the consideration of closing a school which has been associated with confirmed cases of the novel H1N1 virus.

Due to the milder cases of H1N1 that have been reported so far, the CDC is recommending schools, like Eagle's Landing, focus on early identification of ill students and staff and good personal hygiene.

The CDC reported Monday there were more than 1,000 confirmed or probable cases of H1N1 in 44 states. So far, two deaths have occurred in Texas in relation to H1N1. However, most U.S. cases have not been severe and are comparable in severity to seasonal influenza, according to the CDC.

H1N1 cases reported in Georgia residents have been mild and less severe than once thought, according to Ford, of the Georgia Division of Public Health.

"We've been working very closely with [Eagle's Landing] to assist them in moving forward," said Hayla Hall, spokeswoman for District 4 Public Health. "The primary thing now would be for the people who are sick to stay home."

She said people can prevent the spread of H1N1 by simply using sound, time-tested personal hygiene methods.

"It doesn't matter where you are or what you do," Hall said. "The primary thing is to wash your hands, stay away from people who are obviously sick, and if you are sick, stay at home."

Many at Eagle's Landing Christian - where officials said enrollment is roughly 1,200 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade - returned to business as usual on Thursday, according to Chuck Gilliam, assistant head of school at Eagle's Landing Christian.

"The majority of our students have returned," Gilliam said, though he would not say exactly how many students returned to school Thursday.

Gilliam said students and faculty did not lose much pivotal classroom time during the three days the school was closed this week, Monday through Wednesday.

"Our accrediting agencies consider this, what they call 'an act of God,'" Gilliam said. "We believe God is in control and he has a purpose for why this is happening to our school."

Seniors at Eagle's Landing Christian, Lunsford included, are now preparing for their May 17 graduation. Lunsford said students will begin, next Tuesday, taking their end-of-course exams.

This weekend, though, Lunsford said he and many of his classmates will be following their track and field and baseball teams in state tournaments.

"I'm really excited," Lunsford said. "I'm glad, my senior year, track is going well and baseball's doing pretty well too [...] these moments go by quickly."