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Swine flu affecting attendance at local schools

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 40 percent of the United States population could contract the H1N1 flu virus, commonly known as “swine flu.”

With this estimate, there is a significant likelihood that a large amount of Fallbrook’s population will be exposed to the virus.

In order to protect the students in their care, officials at Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD) and Potter Junior High School are working to make sure parents know what to do if their children fall ill with either the seasonal flu or H1N1 virus, and say they are making it a point to keep parents as informed as possible.

“The frequency of communication is dependent upon absentee rates, the number of H1N1 confirmations, new information from healthcare providers and the level of staff interest and concern,” said Dale Mitchell, superintendent of FUHSD. “We do know that some students are experiencing flu-like symptoms,” said Mitchell in an automated out-call message to parents. “The district has been informed of only 10 confirmed cases of H1N1. Our attendance rates continue to be at 92 percent or higher.”

Mitchell said the average daily high school attendance rate is typically 94 to 95 percent.

“This means that our absenteeism is eight percent or less,” he said. “These indicators are not a cause for general alarm at this time.”

Potter Principal Dr. Tere Peterson stated the school is “following procedure” with students who are suffering from flu-like symptoms.

“We have seen an increase in absences,” said Peterson. “This week there was a slight decrease in the absences, but we are looking at around 95 to 98 students out a day. That’s roughly 10 percent of our student population.”

Typically, Potter has an average of 40 students absent on a given day.

To slow down the spread of the seasonal flu and H1N1, both Potter and Fallbrook High have taken steps to educate students and their parents on the best way to treat the flu.

“We have reviewed safety facts with kids by using a video news program,” said Peterson. “We discuss washing hands, proper sanitation and all of the important aspects of staying healthy. We also have a school nurse on campus to treat students if teachers note they aren’t well.”

Mitchell concurs that teaching proper sanitation practices is best to quell the spread of illness.

“The best approach for each of us is to consistently implement the best hygiene practices we can and to encourage others to do the same,” she said. “Teach your students to wash their hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Teach your students not to share personal items like drinks, food or unwashed utensils and to cover their coughs and sneezes with tissues. If tissues are not available, coughs and sneezes can be covered with the elbow, arm or sleeve instead of hands.”

The officials at both the junior high and high school campuses also say their staff has been vigilant about cleaning surfaces that may have been contaminated with flu germs.

“All horizontal surfaces are being cleaned on a daily basis,” said Mitchell. “In instances of confirmed H1N1, the classrooms used by those students are receiving additional cleaning. The district has more hand sanitizer on backorder.”

“Potter has a wonderful sanitation staff that has been diligent with cleaning,” added Peterson.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, public health officer for San Diego County, stated the base line of concern for the percentage of students absent due to illness of the H1N1 virus is 10 percent.

“If the amount of students absent due to influenza illness is beyond that percentage, we begin to ask questions,” said Wooten. “The absences may also be due to parents keeping their children home for fear of them contracting the illness.”

The county recommends school closures if a school has a 30 percent threshold of absent students, but there has not been any unusual absenteeism or county schools closures yet, said Wooten.

“There is no blanket system for closures, though,” said Wooten. “If a school’s average absentee rate is three percent, then jumps to six or eight percent, it would be of concern.”

Influenza symptoms parents should watch for include a fever over 100 degrees, a cough accompanied with a sore throat, aches and fatigue. Wooten said H1N1 symptoms include nausea and vomiting but that every case is different.

“The most common symptoms are fever and cough,” she said.

Adults and students who suspect they have either the seasonal flu or H1N1 should stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever breaks without the aid of fever-reducing medication, said Wooten.

Wooten also strongly recommends that individuals across the county receive the flu shot early this year, as it takes about two weeks to take effect.

The county anticipates that it will have 28,000 H1N1 immunizations in the form of a nasal spray available for healthy 2- to 18-year-olds by mid-October.

“We only recommend that 2- to 18-year-olds who have no medical problems receive the immunization with registered providers,” said Wooten.

According to Wooten, there are three tiers of individuals who will be impacted by H1N1.

“The first are those [who contract the illness] but have no other medical problems,” she elaborated. “These individuals need to stay home until the fever goes away. They don’t need to be tested, nor do they need Tamiflu; they just need plenty of rest and fluids.

“The second tier is comprised of individuals who have underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or other chronic medical problems that may increase risks. These people should talk to their doctors about Tamiflu and other treatments.

“The third tier of impacted individuals are those who are hospitalized and should be tested. This also includes cases of those who are expired and tested, as well as testing done by institutions helping the county monitor influenza.”

Even with the information available, Wooten insists upon the importance of county residents living their lives as normally as possible.

“We want people to continue their daily activity,” said Wooten. “But if they become infected, they must stay home. That’s the number one way people can help us.”


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