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H1N1 Virus Loves Schools
By Kathy Hare

When the Class of 2013 reported for basic training at the Air Force Academy this summer they knew it was going to be tough. Jacks Valley always looms as the ultimate physical test for the “doolies,” however 1 out of 10 cadets also faced another physical challenge, the H1N1 virus. Thankfully their flu symptoms have been relatively mild and no cadet required hospitalization. But there’s no denying the swine flu is alive and well in Colorado.  It thrives in large crowds, spreading as infected people cough or sneeze. The virus can live for about two hours after being deposited on papers, cafeteria tables, dirty hands, keyboards, and doorknobs. And unlike seasonal flu which mainly affects the elderly, the H1N1 virus targets children and young adults. So don’t be surprised if your child brings home more than forms to be filled out when they return to school this month.

Last spring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended closing any school with a confirmed case of H1N1. Schools were then disinfected; but it was later discovered these measures do little to stop the spread of flu. When the virus proved to be less virulent than first expected, the CDC said schools should only be closed when flu-related absenteeism “interferes with the school’s ability to function.” However that doesn’t mean Falcon District 49 officials are taking the swine flu threat lightly.

Amanda Mountain, senior communication specialist for District 49, said, “The district is working closely with the El Paso County Health Department and the CDC so we will be prepared should a flu outbreak occur.” If cases of the H1N1 virus are confirmed, both the severity and number of flu cases will be considered when determining school closures. Mountain said plans are also in place to remind students to practice regular hand washing and other hygienic practices that limit the spread of illness. But as the CDC Web-site states, parents are the first line of defense in preventing a widespread flu outbreak.

Containing the flu is impossible if sick children are sent to school. So it’s time for parents to examine their “emergency” childcare plan. Who will care for your child if they get the flu? “Studies have shown that people may be contagious from one day before they develop symptoms to up to 7 days after they get sick. Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods,” the CDC reports. As a result, they’re recommending any infected student or school staff member remain home for 7 days after their first flu symptoms appear.

That’s a long time for anyone to be out of work. And as all working parents know, finding daycare is hard enough, but finding someone to care for a sick child is next to impossible. However, a little preparation now may save a lot of headaches later. Start discussing work options with your employer and spouse. Look for help within the neighborhood. Current high unemployment rates may actually increase your chances of finding childcare.

While shopping for the final school supplies, parents may also want to stock-up on beverages, chicken broth, jello, and popsicles. All most flu victims need is lots of rest and liquids. If your child has a fever, cough, sore throat, headache or chills, keep them home! These are all early symptoms of the flu. Many people infected with H1N1 also experience diarrhea and vomiting. If your child exhibits any one of the more serious symptoms listed below, then according to the CDC it’s time to seek immediate medical care.

On June 11, the World Health Organization announced a swine flu pandemic. Swine flu has spread around the globe. Drug manufacturers are working at a frantic pace to produce a vaccine, but it may not be available until mid-October. If the AFA was any indication of how quickly the virus spreads through a school population, then parents should expect H1N1 to appear shortly after school opens – long before a vaccine is available.

For more information on how to talk to your child about H1N1, and tips on preventing the spread of the virus go to: http://www.D49.org or http://www.CDC.gov

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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