Schools monitoring flu situation

First Posted: 9/4/2009

With school back in session, the concern from parents about an H1N1 influenza outbreak is growing.
However, administrators from area schools say there is no need to panic, even as rumors swirled yesterday there at been a confirmed case at one of the area schools.
Officials are keeping an eye on the situation with regular meetings and are encouraging parents to be smart about the disease.
We are working with the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, the Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina Division of Public Health and following their guidelines, said Sonia Dickerson, media relations and teacher quality coordinator for Surry County Schools. We are treating influenza all the same and trying to monitor everything closely.
At this point we are definitely aware of the situation. Were doing everything we can to be proactive, said Bryan Taylor, assistant superintendent for Mount Airy City Schools. We meet almost daily with the school nurses and we receive updates from the state.
While students have been absent from school, the numbers have not exceeded the regular absences experienced by schools during this time of year. Mount Airy City Schools has seen about a 96 percent attendance rate. Some of those students may have exhibited flu-like symptoms, however, they have not been tested specifically for swine flu.
Right now, testing for H1N1 is not being done in most cases. They are just being told you have the flu, said Dickerson.
According to Theresa Hughes, communicable disease nurse with the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, testing specifically for H1N1 is not going on in Surry County any more because the disease is now known to be here.
When it first began, we were doing more testing. Once the first case was diagnosed, the guidelines change, said Hughes. They are testing mainly if patients are sick enough to be hospitalized. Testing is greatly decreased because it is already community-acquired.
In the meantime, the schools are taking added precautions to prevent the possibility of an outbreak. Both school systems have purchased additional cleaning supplies to be used alongside the traditional supplies. Mount Airy City Schools has purchased two-liter bottles of hand sanitizer for each classroom and plans to encourage students to use it has they enter and leave each room.
Washing your hands is one of the most important things to do, said Taylor. We hope to mitigate the situation so it doesnt become full-blown.
Educators are encouraging parents to continue to monitor their children for flu-like symptoms and keep them at home if they become ill. If a child becomes sick at school, parents will be contacted to pick them up.
The main thing is to keep everyone calm and be aware. We encourage people to stay home when theyre sick, said Dickerson.
Mainly we do ask patients to practice voluntary home isolation, cover their mouth or nose when they cough or sneeze, practice good respiratory hygiene and wash their hands, said Hughes.
While neither school system has a specific plan in place in case of an outbreak, officials at both are talking about it regularly and have several options in mind. The Mount Airy City school system has been talking to schools in other areas that are having to deal with the issue now about how they are handling the situation.
In the event we do have an outbreak, we will sit down and evaluate the situation. We will do whats best for everyone involved, said Taylor. We talked about what-if and we will have some plans in place to address it.
Theyve been talking about this quite a lot, said Dickerson of the county schools administrative team. We want to keep everyone calm and aware.
One of the precautions noted by both school systems as important is that people who are exhibiting symptoms should remain at home for 24 hours after fever and fever symptoms have stopped without the use of fever-reducing medication.
According to Thomas Williams Jr., media relations specialist with the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, the number of confirmed cases in the area do not matter anymore because H1N1 is known to be in the area.
Williams has remained in contact with the school systems to monitor the situation and offer guidance.
We have asked them if they see clusters of students exhibiting symptoms or absenteeism on the rise to let us know, he said.
The biggest thing is for people to watch the paper for information on if or when the vaccination becomes available, said Verona Danley, communicable disease nurse with the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center. Also get the vaccination for the seasonal flu so you dont have to worry about a double whammy.
To express a concern or receive more information, contact the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center at 401-8400.
Contact Morgan Wall at [email protected] or 719-1929.

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