Back to school time puts flu precautions back in front row
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – With area schools and college classes back in session later this month, the Garfield County Public Health Department is re-emphasizing a few basic precautions to prevent outbreaks of H1N1 influenza and seasonal flu.
“Schools and child-care facilities should have influenza plans in place to deal with ill children and high absenteeism rates,” said Mary Meisner, Garfield County public health director.
If not, the Garfield County Public Health Department can provide guidance in developing one, she said.
“With the threat of seasonal flu circulating this fall and winter, and H1N1 flu virus currently circulating, schools and child-care facilities play an important role in keeping our communities healthy,” Meisner said.
H1N1 flu, like seasonal flu, tends to spread in places where children and young adults gather.
“Now that kids head back to school, we expect to see more cases,” Meisner said.
School resumes for pre-kindergarten students through 12th grade in the Garfield School District Re-2 on Aug. 17, and in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 on Aug. 24.
“We certainly will be communicating with parents and staff about the proper precautions that need to be taken to prevent the spread of flu or any communicable illness,” Re-2 Director of Districtwide Services Theresa Hamilton said.
Basic precautions include encouraging children to wash their hands often and, if they have to sneeze or cough, to use a tissue, shirt sleeve or their elbow, she said.
“If a child is sick with a fever, you really don’t want to send them to school,” Hamilton said. “You need to keep a child home if they’re sick.”
The Centers for Disease Control stance on school closures related to the H1N1 flu is different from this spring, when the flu outbreak was declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization. By late June, Garfield County had eight confirmed cases of H1N1.
On Aug. 7, the CDC provided the following recommendations for K-12 schools, colleges, businesses and other community settings:
• Decisions about school closures should be at the discretion of local authorities based on local considerations, including public concern and the impact of school absenteeism and staffing shortages.
“The potential benefits of pre-emptively dismissing students from school are often outweighed by negative consequences,” the CDC stated in a press release.
• School dismissal is not advised unless there is a magnitude of faculty or student absenteeism that interferes with the school’s ability to function.
• Schools should focus on early identification of students and staff who are ill, staying home when ill, and good cough and hand hygiene etiquette.
• Those with flu-like illness (fever with a cough or sore throat) should stay home and not attend school or go into the community except to seek medical care for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. This is a change from the previous recommendation of seven days.
• Students, faculty and staff who appear to have a flu-like illness at arrival or become ill during the day should be isolated promptly in a room separate from other students until they can be sent home.
• School staff should routinely clean areas that students and staff touch often with everyday cleaners.
• People at high risk for influenza complications who become ill with influenza-like illness should speak with their health care provider as soon as possible.
• Students, faculty or staff who live either on or off campus and who have influenza-like illness should stay away from others for at least 24 hours.
• Roommates or those caring for someone with flu-like illness should view “Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home” at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance/.
Vaccine for seasonal flu will be available in Garfield County beginning in mid-September, Meisner said.
“All individuals should consider getting their seasonal flu shot early this year,” she said. “This will greatly assist local health care providers and public health clinics when H1N1 vaccine arrives.”
H1N1 vaccine is being manufactured separately, and the first shipment of H1N1 vaccine may arrive in Colorado as early as mid-October. When the vaccine does become available, Garfield County Public Health will coordinate administration of vaccine according to CDC recommendations.
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