"The World Health Organization two weeks ago officially declared the end of the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic," said Logan Boss, public information officer for Northwest Georgia Public Health. "However, H1N1 the influenza virus is still circulating in communities around the world, and certainly here in northwest Georgia. And because influenza is so unpredictable, you never know what could happen -- we hope that we will not see H1N1 develop as a more virulent, stronger influenza than it was over 2009 when it was officially a pandemic or a global problem.
"Flu's very unpredictable. You never know what's going to happen with it. H1N1 turned out to be very contagious influenza, but it turned out to be much more mild than we had originally thought it might be, which is a good thing,'" Boss added. "Our big concern is that you could have a highly contagious strain of influenza, like H1N1, that combines with H5N1, the so called 'bird flu,' which is still circulating, and you can end up with the worst of both worlds -- a very contagious, highly fatal strain of flu. That's still our worst nightmare scenario."
Concerns over the possible return of swine flu, or other strains of the flu virus, are why entities such as Bartow County Schools continue to perform practices they used last year to combat the spread of germs.
Johnny Gulledge, director of Student Support Services for Bartow County Schools, said those practices are key in ensuring that children are protected from illnesses and remain well enough to maintain school attendance.
"We have basically the same guidelines that we kept at the end of last year. We have posters up now about guarding against [sickness] -- making sure [students] know to keep their mouths covered, wash their hands, all those things that you would normally do," Gulledge said. "We switched a lot of the things that we were using last year just to make sure that everything was disinfected, and we continued with that through the school year. We'll continue on this year.
"We're wiping everything down," he added. "I've spoken with [Jody] Elrod with transportation and they're still doing buses the same way. We're going to do everything we can to make sure it's all taken care of and kids have the safest environment they can."
Gulledge said district officials and nurses throughout their schools continue to eye information from local and state health officials. But despite their best efforts, he says he expects the school system to deal with another round of the swine flu in the coming months.
"From probably the end of September on, we know we'll be facing the same thing -- it may not be the same panic because there was so little known when it began last year, but I think now there's so much information out there," he said.
When it comes to combating against the swine flu, as well as the typical flu virus, help is on the way. Boss said flu shots should be made available soon, with the Bartow County Health Department likely to get its usual supply in mid-September. Some retailers also will carry flu shots.
Boss said the shots are recommended for everyone more than six months of age and will protect against last year's well-publicized strain and more.
"The good news is we developed a vaccine for H1N1 and delivered the vaccinations to quite a large number of people, not as a many as we would have liked, but a lot of people got vaccinated against H1N1," Boss said. "This year's seasonal flu shot has the antigen, or the protection, against H1N1, as well as antigens for two of the other prevalent strains of flu that have been circulating the globe in the last year.
"Our message is get a seasonal flu shot as soon as you can this year. It's not too early to get it ... and you will have protection throughout the flu season."