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Crist: Families Should Use Common Sense With Flu Cases

State officials said Wednesday they are preparing for potential swine flu outbreaks as students return to the classroom this fall.

“It's important to wash your hands. It's important to cough into your sleeve. And if you feel ill, stay home,” said Gov. Charlie Crist.

State Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros said the state has been working with federal health officials to prepare vaccinations for at-risk populations within the state, mostly school-age children and people with chronic illnesses. Vaccinations would be voluntary and health officials are still encouraging Floridians to get their regular flu vaccines.

She is not recommending that students wear surgical masks to school but is recommending they use common sense. Viamonte Ros said she expects the first batch of vaccines to be ready by October.

Florida has been hit particularly hard with the swine flu. And The Associated Press reported recently that the state epidemiologist predicted that 5 million Floridians could contract the swine flu within a year if the virus follows the pattern of previous pandemics.

Viamonte Ros said it was still too difficult to predict just how many people could contract swine or other strains of flu this fall and winter.

State technology workers met last month to discuss preparation for any sort of pandemic that could potentially cause the government to cease functioning. Telecommunting programs are being developed for several agencies so that the state can communicate with residents via the Internet.

The Florida Supreme Court also devised a plan on how to keep the court system functioning a few months ago when the flu first broke out. It had been adapted from one developed in 2006 when avian flu was a bigger concern. The report produced by the court envisions hearings throughout the system being held by video conference if personal contact needed to be limited. "Technology is vital in order to maintain operations in a pandemic," the report reads.

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