Wednesday, May 27, 2009

UGA College of Public Health to hold community forum on influenza virus

In an effort to engage the Athens community as a partner in prevention, the University of Georgia College of Public Health is hosting a community forum on the influenza virus. The forum will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 28 in room 175 of the Paul D. Coverdell Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences.

Two physicians and a veterinarian epidemiologist will lead the forum, which is free and open to the public.

Dr. Christopher Whalen, professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health, is a physician who is board certified in infectious diseases and internal medicine. He is also a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and will provide information on preventing illness and current treatment methods.

“People should recognize the signs and symptoms of influenza-like illness—that would be fever plus respiratory symptoms such as coughing and sore throat,” Whalen said, “and they should seek advice from their physicians if they develop those symptoms.”

Dr. Steven Valeika, an infectious disease epidemiologist and veterinarian in the College of Public Health, studies the transmission of diseases that affect animal and human populations. He is especially interested in the processes that allow an infection to jump from animals to humans, as has happened with the new strain of Influenza A (H1N1), also known as “swine flu.” Valeika is a co-author on two recent articles about avian influenza.

Dr. Claude Burnett, a preventative medicine physician, is the Georgia Department of Human Resources Northeast Georgia District Health Director and an adjunct faculty member in the College of Public Health. As District Health Director, Burnett oversees and manages the operational plans for the entire health district that includes Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton counties.

At the forum, Whalen, Valeika and Burnett will provide a brief overview of the current H1N1 flu outbreak and answer questions from the community.

The symptoms of the influenza can seem mild, and individuals often go to work with a headache, muscle aches, a cough or a runny nose. Yet, in the United States alone, 36,000 people die from influenza-related complications each year. The current H1N1 virus outbreak is an example of how quickly influenza is capable of mutating and how easily new strains of the virus can emerge.

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