Friday, September 4, 2009

Schools brace for swine flu outbreak

Seven H1N1 cases confirmed in Blaine County


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County School District is preparing for a possible swine flu outbreak, and hopes to protect healthy students such as these youngsters at Bellevue Elementary School.

If you're sick, stay home. That's the advice the Blaine County School District is giving to students and staff as the district prepares for an anticipated outbreak of the so-called swine flu.

"There's a very real threat," District Safety Director Scott Manning said. "There's a very strong possibility that we'll get it here, and we're preparing for a possible outbreak."

The H1N1 virus is already in Blaine County. As of Aug. 27, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported seven confirmed cases of swine flu here.

Health and Welfare reported 350 confirmed cases of swine flu in Idaho, but so far no deaths.

Nationally, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is forecasting that nearly half the U.S. population could be infected this flu season, resulting in 30,000 to 90,000 deaths.

Swine flu symptoms—fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and possible diarrhea and vomiting—are about the same as those of any other flu contagion.

"It's not very different than the regular flu, other than humans don't have antibodies to this particular strain," Manning said

Most at risk, as with any flu virus, are the very young and the elderly. A vaccine is not yet available, but is expected to be ready this fall.

Manning said he is watching closely what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have to say about the virus.

"We have no plans to vaccinate at this time, but if the CDC says vaccinate then that's what we'll do," he said.

School closures are a possibility, depending upon the extent of an outbreak and recommendations from public health officials.

The district this week moved swine flue information and links to the front page of its Web site at www.blaineschools.org and recently sent a letter on the subject to student parents.

The letter advises parents to insist that children wash their hands frequently, not share personal items such as drinks or food with other children, and learn and recognize flu symptoms, and to keep children home if they're sick

"We're giving the same instructions to the staff—that if you're sick, stay home," Manning said.

He said the district has begun training teachers and office staff to recognize flu symptoms, and that "kids showing symptoms will be sent home."

Contingency plans are being prepared for implementation in the event of a severe swine flu outbreak. They include conducting symptom screenings of all staff and students as they arrive at school, moving classroom desks farther apart, postponing class trips and dismissing students from school for up to seven days if they become ill.

"We want to stress to people not to panic," Manning said. "But it is a concern, and it's something we're dealing with."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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