Four samples suspected of being swine flu have been sent to the Georgia public health lab in the past few days but have tested negative for the disease.
Dr. Elizabeth Ford, director of the state Division of Public Health, said Tuesday that no confirmed cases of swine flu have been found in Georgia. State health officials are asking physicians who have “suspicious cases to first contact their local health departments for a preliminary screening,” Ford said.
Specimens considered possible swine flu cases will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control for confirmation.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Ford said, no specimens have been sent to the CDC.
Ford also said state officials believe they have plenty of anti-viral medication needed to combat any swine-flu outbreak. To be safe, she said, they have asked to tap a stockpile of medication kept by the federal government on the state’s behalf.
The state already had 1.3 million courses of the anti-viral drug and has an additional 460,000 coming from the stockpile. Each course is good for 10 doses.
State health officials are urging Georgians not to panic but to take normal precautions against infectious diseases.
About 36,000 die every year in the United States from influenza, Ford said. No exact figures for Georgia were available. For context, there have been no U.S. deaths from swine flu and no confirmed cases of the disease in Georgia.
Still, said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, the state director of preparedness for public health, this strain of the flu bears watching.
“It contains aspects that are very common with seasonal flu viruses every year, but it also contains the pig aspects, and the avian flu aspects,” O’Neal said. “When you have that much instability in a virus, you have to be alert to the fact that it will potentially change as time passes.”
Change, he said, could be good or bad. The virus could weaken, “which we hope for,” he said, “or cause it strengthen. It requires us to maintain surveillance.”