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U.S. reverses on school closures

Sebelius (John Amis / The Spokesman-Review)
Sebelius (John Amis / The Spokesman-Review)
Los Angeles Times

Encouraged by the mildness of H1N1 flu infections so far, U.S. health officials on Tuesday said they would no longer encourage the closure of schools with confirmed cases of the disease.

Instead, they urged parents whose children exhibit symptoms of influenza to keep them home for at least a week.

Meanwhile, Texas officials announced the first death of a U.S. citizen from the disease. They said a 33-year-old schoolteacher from Harlingen, near the U.S.-Mexico border, died early Tuesday morning. The Texas Department of State Health Services posted on its Web site that she had “underlying health conditions” and had recently given birth, but gave no further details.

The only previous U.S. death was of a 21-month-old Mexican toddler who died last week at a Houston hospital.

As for the government’s schools action, it does not represent a major shift in policy but rather a recognition that the virus is not proving to be especially threatening. “This is a more mild version of the disease than originally feared,” said Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. “The lethality seems to be lower.”

It was only a week ago that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that schools with at least one confirmed case of H1N1 close for as long as 14 days. About 750 schools around the country have done so.

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