Leader Blues

Friday, August 14, 2009

TOP STORY >> Schools brace for swine flu

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

With students starting school Monday at Jacksonville Lighthouse Academy and Wednesday at other area schools, the swine flu has become a concern.

The districts have been told by the Centers for Disease Control that they need to be ready.

Local school districts must develop plans for handling sick children at school, including setting aside an isolation area where they can rest while waiting to go home and creating an environment that allows learning to continue, according to the U.S. secretary of education.

“It’s incredibly important to all of us that students continue to learn,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, along with Duncan and the CDC, recently released guidelines to help districts with the upcoming flu season which looks to be worse than normal because of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, which has already claimed nearly 400 deaths across the country this year.

In line with the federal request, the Cabot School District will send home letters the first week of school about the swine flu.

Beebe is also considering sending parents letters and Lonoke has posted information on its school district Web site.

Robert Martin, director of student services for Cabot School District, wrote in a letter to parents that will go home with students early in the school year that everyone must work together to prevent the spread of the disease.

The letter gives this list of preventive measures the school district is undertaking:

Monitoring staff and students and following guidelines of care for individuals who manifest “flu-like” symptoms in school.

Sharing, encouraging and teaching proper health behaviors.

Stocking and making available proper hand washing supplies and/or hand sanitizers.

Encouraging parents to become informed and to use their best judgment in managing their family’s health.

Encouraging all ill employees and students to remain at home until fully recovered.

Continuing building maintenance and sanitizing efforts.

Receiving, monitoring and sharing all pertinent information as appropriate.

Following closely the recommendations and protocols established through the Arkansas Department of Health and the
National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Martin said he is in contact with local heath department officials about the swine flu as well as the mass immunization of school-aged children set for mid-October. The state Health Department intends to use revenue from the new tobacco tax to pay for the seasonal flu shots.

Dr. Paul Halverson, director of the Arkansas Department of Health, said in a press release the immunization of school children is the beginning of a significant effort in public health protection.

“It has been shown that vaccinating our children is the best way to protect other age groups from the flu as well, especially the elderly population, which is more vulnerable to the most severe effects of the flu,” Halverson said.

However, the seasonal flu shots do not protect against the swine flu.

Rick Duff, director of student services for Beebe School District, said the spread of the flu will likely be a bigger problem in the lower grades because young children have more of a tendency to touch one another. To combat the spread, Duff said students believed to be infected will be isolated from others until their parents pick them up.

The Beebe School District may also send letters home, he said, but not too early in the school year.

“Too early and they might get lost in all the papers that go home early in the term,” Duff explained.

Seasonal flu shots will be given at Beebe schools Oct. 26-27.