Schools: Don’t panic over flu

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 17, 2009

By By Kerry Whipple Bean

Parents need not panic about the possibility of their children coming down with the H1N1 flu virus, school and health officials said.
Brewton City Schools have sent a couple of students home with flu-like symptoms during the first week of school, but Superintendent Lynn Smith said there have been no confirmations of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu. There have also been no cases at Escambia County Schools.
At St. Stephens Pre-School, one child went home Wednesday with flu-like symptoms — not H1N1 — and many parents kept their children out of pre-school the next day, Director Stephanie Walker said.
But the pre-school did not close, Walker said. Staff are taking a common sense approach to cleanliness, she said, using universal precautions.
According to the advice schools have received from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control, the disease is not as serious as was thought last spring, although it is highly contagious, Smith said.
Last spring, the swine flu outbreak closed schools in Huntsville for as much as a week and postponed statewide athletic events.
But new guidelines from the CDC are not nearly as strict, Smith said.
Students or faculty with H1N1 are advised to stay home for no longer than 24 hours after fever and symptoms are gone, and schools are not advised to close unless so many students or faculty are absent that they cannot operate. “It’s a whole different ballgame,” Smith said.
Teachers are taking precautions in the classroom to make sure students wash their hands and stay safe, and school officials in Brewton and Escambia County have urged sick faculty and students to stay home.
Susan Smith, registered nurse for Escambia County Schools, said the school system is also using those simple precautions to help stop the spread of disease.
State Health Officer Don Williamson said Friday the state estimates 1,000 people will die from H1N1 this fall and winter, slightly higher than the usual rate from regular seasonal flu. Data shows that one third of the swine flu deaths in the U.S. have occurred in obese people.
The state Department of Education is preparing for mass H1N1 vaccinations at schools, but a vaccine won’t be available until at least late September. In the meantime, students will likely get sick, Superintendent Smith said.
Walker urged parents to talk to their doctors about precautions if anyone at home is particularly susceptible to illness, such as young babies or the elderly.