August 19, 2009 in City

Schools ready flu-fighting tools

Districts set protocols for containing H1N1 spread as officials expect cases to rise
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Ashley Haley, 9, holds her sister’s hand while suffering the momentary sting of a hepatitis A vaccine injection from nurse Stacey Robinson on Tuesday at Madison Elementary School in Spokane. Vaccine for swine flu might be available in October, health officials say.
(Full-size photo)

The swine flu may appear less frequently in the headlines these days, but it’s at the front of educators’ minds as the first day of school approaches.

School officials throughout the Inland Northwest have been meeting with health authorities to discuss preventive measures and the possibility of an outbreak. This H1N1 flu strain is of particular concern because it has caused sickness and deaths during the typically flu-free summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Most of the flu that is circulating could soon be the swine flu,” said Kathe Reed-McKay, Spokane Public Schools’ director of health services. “It’s very contagious between children. Health officials are expecting the amount of illnesses to go up.”

A vaccination is on its way, possibly in mid-October, health officials say. But because of a problem at factories that put the liquid into the syringes, only 45 million doses may be available nationwide rather than the 120 million expected. More will arrive each week, with the full number being available by the end of December, officials announced Tuesday.

Until the swine flu vaccinations arrive, school and health officials are discussing prevention of the virus’ spread.

“We are encouraging coughing into a tissue and disposing of it, coughing into your elbow,” Reed-McKay said. “We’re encouraging the same things that we do when there’s a regular seasonal flu.”

Drinking fountains, restrooms, health rooms (or nurse’s offices), showers and fitness equipment are sanitized daily in Spokane Public Schools, she added. In addition to basic cleaning, the Coeur d’Alene School District also will have hand sanitizer in most of its classrooms, said Rosie Astorquia, director of secondary education.

Reed-McKay said Spokane schools are emphasizing regular scrubbing. “Hand sanitizer is not as effective as hand washing,” Reed-McKay said.

Regionwide, educators and health officials have come up with consistent guidelines. If students or staff members exhibit swine flu symptoms, they will be required to stay home until they’re fever-free – without medication – for 24 hours.

Staff and students who exhibit symptoms will be sent home. Parents will be asked to give information about their child’s symptoms, so the districts can track the illnesses. Letters from health authorities in Washington and Idaho about swine flu will be distributed to staff and students at registration or on the first day of school.

School districts also have determined they will not close because of a single case. Officials say they will take their direction from their respective health districts or the CDC.

Dr. Thomas Friesen, of the CDC, told CNN that school closures would probably be rare. “There are measures we can take to protect the students, protect the staff and to allow learning to continue,” he said.

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