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Schools preach prevention in swine flu battle

Health officials expect cases to rise as students return this fall

Sept. 2, 2009

With school back in session, area school districts and health departments are preparing for more students coming down with the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.

While transmission of the H1N1 virus mostly declined through the summer, it is expected to rise this fall with students back in schools - great "incubators" of any disease, health officials say.

In fact, schools that opened early around the country have already begun to see a spike in cases, leading local officials to believe the same could happen here in late September or October, Greenfield Health Officer Darren Rausch said.

This time around, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not recommending closing schools. The strategy proved ineffective last spring and was stopped even before school let out for the 2008-09 school year.

The CDC's closing-schools stance may be re-evaluated depending on how many people contract the virus.

Student absences monitored

In the meantime, school officials will be closely watching student absences and taking note of children with flu-like symptoms. Information is sent from schools to local public health officials for their review.

A swine flu vaccination is expected to arrive in mid- to late-October. While the public waits for a vaccine, the message is on prevention.

Most school districts have sent letters to parents on what officials are doing to deal with the swine flu threat and to provide guidelines on how to prevent their child getting sick.

Anyone with flu-like symptoms, like a fever or cough, should stay home for at least 24 hours after the symptoms go away. Everyone should practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of the disease, to which no one is immune.

Communities working together

School districts are also doing what they can to educate faculty on the H1N1 virus.

In Franklin, staff watched a video geared toward younger children on how to cover sneezes and coughs properly while in school and the home, communications specialist Tanya Ruder said.

A school district nurse also works with the faculty, and information on students' absences is sent to the Health Department daily so nurses there can determine if there is an issue at any Franklin schools, Ruder said.

Greendale school officials are making sure the hand-washing signs are up in bathrooms, and maintenance crews are cleaning and sanitizing schools.

And area health departments are working together to stay on message and pool their resources to fight the disease, Oak Creek Health Officer Judith Price said.

Health officials are still determining how best to deliver the vaccine when it arrives later this fall, as much is still unknown. Residents are encouraged to get vaccinations for both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus.

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