Prevention push is on
Stopping H1N1 flu tops
the list at area schools
September 02, 2009
IMLAY CITY — Before the flu season arrives in a flurry of germs, area school officials are making preparations to ward off what could be an exceptionally sickly year.
Since the potentially serious flu strain—H1N1—was identified this spring, health officials have been gearing up to help schools keep their students healthy.
Ironically, Stephanie Simmons of the Lapeer County Health Department says the strain appears to result in milder symptoms than the seasonal flu but will likely inflict more people overall.
"Every year we develop immunity to different strains of influenza. Most people under 50 have not been exposed to H1N1 in the past and will likely be a major target," Simmons said.
"It will cause fewer hospitalizations and deaths than what the flu causes."
Annually, 36,000 people in the United States die from the flu. Those are mostly elderly people.
The one characteristic of H1N1 that especially worries health officials is its propensity to spread quickly.
"This virus likes people in congregate settings," Simmons said.
"Once kids go back to school it could only take a couple of cases...and increase exponentially from there."
In that scenario, too few students could mean a day or days off for entire schools.
Simmons said the health department meets with local school officials every year before school starts, but this year they gave administrators and secretaries specific instructions.
"What we encourage is that they ask a few more questions of parents when they call in with sick kids," Simmons said.
The health department can use that kind of information to hopefully waylay a major outbreak of illness.
Parents will be asked to keep their children home from school at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.
At Imlay City School, plans are underway to combat illness just about everywhere. Bus drivers will be disinfecting seats and handrails; custodians will be cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and communal items including door handles and computer keyboards every day and teachers will be reminding students to wash their hands often, Superintendent Gary Richards said.
"I am confident that with parents, students, and school employees working together we will minimize the spread of flu this school year," Richards said.
Parent-involvement is key in the fight too, Richards said. Letters have been sent to parents detailing the schools' plans. They emphasize that keeping sick kids at home is very important.
At Imlay City High School, Principal Stu Cameron said they've amended their attendance policy so as not to entice sick students from coming. Previously, students could accrue participation points for good attendance. This year, points won't be lost due to illness, Cameron said.
When the novel H1N1 flu first caused outbreaks this spring, it was referred to as the 'swine flu,' but the Centers for Disease Control stresses that the virus has not been found in swine in the United States.
Symptoms of the flu include fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit, 37.8 degrees Celsius or greater), cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, and feeling very tired. Some people, especially children, may also vomit or have diarrhea.
For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/flu or call 1-800-CDC-INFO. For more information about the flu in the Tri-City area, contact the Lapeer County Health Department at 667-0448 or 667-0391.