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Parents, Schools Brace For Back-To-Flu

Black Voice News, News Report , Chris Levister Posted: Sep 01, 2009

When first, second and third graders Darvin, Clinton and Jordan Abrams boarded their school bus on the first day of school this week their mom Comishas parting message left no room for debate.

Keep those hands clean. Fearing another outbreak of the swine flu virus, the Riverside mother of three boys is leaving nothing to chance. This year Abrams is sending her sons off to class with some added protection, SpongeBob Square Pants labeled hand sanitizer clipped to their backpacks.

I worry about them passing germs. Boys are the worst, said Abrams.

Every year, schools across the area become giant petri dishes for germs. Snotty children in close quarters wipe their noses, cough on their hands, trade pencils and hug one another, the walls and anything they can get their hands on. On the germ front, this year wont be any different but there is a heightened awareness and a lot more discussion on how to prevent the spread of the run-of-the-mill flu and a scarier version: the H1N1 virus, otherwise known as swine flu.

Inland school, county and health officials have been meeting all summer to reinforce guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafting local plans for preventing the spread of the deadly virus and delivering the highly anticipated H1N1 vaccine. Barbara Cole, director of Disease Control for the Riverside County Department of Health says the vaccine expected sometime in September or early October would be issued to states then parceled out to local districts.

Were planning around the delivery of and how many doses of the H1N1 vaccine we will receive, said Cole. She says much like the normal seasonal flu vaccine the H1N1 vaccine would most likely be administered to school aged school children at campus clinics or off site health facilities.

Cole said a big part of the countys strategy calls for educating low income and minority parents, and their children, utilizing churches, senior centers and youth clubs in targeted neighborhoods. Were asking African American and Hispanic churches for example to publish prevention measures in their Sunday bulletins. Were taking the message of prevention and preparedness to minority newspapers and mainstream radio and television. Look for us at senior centers during bingo and other activities and at neighborhood facilities like the Boys and Girls Clubs where children congregate. Cole said parents should be concerned and aware but not panicked. She said while most deaths during a typical flu season occur in the elderly, swine flu is more likely to effect children and young adults. The Riverside Unified School District is participating in a flu prevention pilot program whereby staff and students are being administered the Flu-Mist seasonal influenza vaccine. Cole takes comfort in what she calls a healthy collaboration between area schools, health providers, and community stakeholders. Last year was a good trial run, but its about to get very serious. The 2008-09 flu season produced dozens of confirmed and suspected cases of swine flu in the Inland Empire resulting in numerous school closures, panicked parents, swamped medical facilities and a run on seasonal influenza vaccine. Heightened awareness and prevention is made more complicated with fewer school nurses and other medical support staff due to budget cuts and to a high population of low income and special needs students in some district who tend to be on average sicker.

Many nurses have to split their time and travel from school to school during the day. If the H1N1 flu becomes an epidemic in the region, the worst case scenario could be students lining up outside school clinics with only one or no registered nurse working. At that point, school officials say theyd bring in volunteers from the private sector or concentrate the districts nurses at a particularly hard hit school.

Most school districts are following directives set by their county health departments, which are heeding recommendations from the CDC. The CDC is recommending students stay home if they are sick and do not return to school until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours. Cole said if students experience flu-like symptoms at school, they should be separated and sent home as soon as possible.

School officials should also emphasize the importance of hand washing by posting signs in high traffic areas, having teachers promote the message in their classrooms, providing hand sanitizer in classes and giving students the opportunity to go to the bathroom to wash their hands.

At this point, the swine flu has shown no signs of being more severe than the regular seasonal flu. The main difference is that the majority of the population hasnt been exposed to the H1N1 strain so few people have immunity to it, says Cole. In 1957, similar strains of this virus broke out, and researchers have detected antibodies in the blood of older people that neutralize the new flu bug. But the younger population doesnt have the same immunity.

Meanwhile individual schools like Dr. Martin Luther King Middle School in San Bernardino are taking a more aggressive approach to preventing the spread of flu. Teachers are asked not to cluster desks together; students wash their hands when entering the school in the morning; a video on how to cough in your sleeve and how to dispose of a tissue is being shown to students.

Related Articles:

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Indian Woman and Son Contract Swine Flu after Returning from U.S.

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