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Schools say NO to swine flu

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With the H1N1 virus, swine flu, threat re-emerging, forward thinking by Sequim School District officials might help many children, parents and staffers avoid that virus and others this flu season.

“I believe we’ve taken a number of steps for whatever is going to happen,” said Bill Bentley, Sequim School’s superintendent.

“If it’s a true epidemic, then we’ll be ready.”

Those aged 6 months to 24 years are most susceptible to H1N1, followed by those with chronic conditions who are 25-64; pregnant women; health care and emergency personnel; and those who live or work with children younger than 6 months.

Last spring, school staff installed more hand sanitizer dispensers in high risk areas such as classrooms, lunchrooms and computer labs to combat the spread of germs and flu viruses.

This followed the initial outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus, which is surfacing now, earlier than the common influenza strain, in children across the country.

Dr. Tom Locke, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties said, “The single most important thing is hand washing. That’s your last line of defense.”

Leading into the new school year, mass mailings were sent to parents and staff about preventing and dealing with the flu.

Laminated signs in school classrooms and bathrooms remind students to wash their hands regularly.

Sequim schools clear
Bentley said as of Monday, Oct. 12, there are no confirmed cases of H1N1 flu in the school system.
A few students have been tested but no cases have been reported.

“When it happens, we’re going to have to respond as best as we can.”

School secretaries are screening absent students specifically for flu-like symptoms.

If a student or anyone in his/her home has been sick with the flu, staff will contact parents recommending one more day at home because the H1N1 virus can be carried 24 hours prior and five days after symptoms appear.

Students with flu-like symptoms at school will be separated and staff working with them will wear a paper mask and latex gloves as protective barriers.

“I’m concerned about anyone who is going to get it,” Bentley said.

“It’s not only a student issue, but a staff issue.”

Out with the old ideology
Due to the highly contagious nature of the H1N1 virus, old ways of thinking are being kicked to the curb when keeping children home from school.
“We have to rethink the old thought on, ‘You look well enough to go to school,’” Bentley said.
“If you are sick, then stay home. If your family members are sick, then stay home.”
Prevention is key, he emphasizes.
“We have to change our perspective and be aggressive with this for students and staff’s sake.”
Bus drivers are keeping an eye on ill students, too.
Jeff Gossage, Sequim school’s transportation supervisor, said he and bus drivers are trying to find the best system for managing the district’s 32 buses. Drivers are directed to wipe down bus seats with sanitizer if students with flu-like symptoms have been on the bus.
If an outbreak were to occur, Gossage would follow Bentley’s instructions on further prevention methods.
“If we were hit hard, then we would look into sanitizing seats more frequently,” Gossage said.

No cause for alarm
In April, health officials closed schools in King and Snohomish counties due to a H1N1 flu outbreak but not in Clallam or Jefferson counties, Locke said.

He doesn’t foresee schools closing here anytime soon due to health reasons.

“Under our current plan, it is very unlikely we’d close down schools,” he said.

Closing schools could cause a ripple effect that would influence the local economies.

“When dealing with this, it’s a matter of keeping enough people in the workforce,” Locke said.
“The last thing we want is well parents taking time off from work to take care of well kids away from school.”

If the flu became detrimental to staffing and substitute teacher numbers, then school officials could close schools without consulting the Clallam County Health Department first.

A few cases won’t close schools, Bentley said.

“The trigger is the high number of students and staff and the number of available subs to keep the schools open.”

There are 99 certified staffing substitutes for Sequim schools.

If H1N1 reaches a high level locally, then Locke has the say in closing schools.

“I’m not seeing any reason for closing schools for this newest pandemic now that the vaccine is available.”

Extra safeguard
Locke said H1N1 vaccinations will be available in the third week of October for those at high risk and readily available in early November.

“Everyone who wants it can get it,” he said.

“Everyone who wants to reduce the H1N1 virus should get it.”

It is available as a nasal mist and as an injection.

The seasonal influenza vaccination was released in September but will not protect against the H1N1 virus, so both vaccinations are required for full prevention.

The seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccinations can be given at the same time but one must be in nasal form as taking two flu vaccinations injections at the same time has not been tested.

Locke said injections must be spaced four weeks apart.

He reiterated the importance of hand washing for everyone.

“That’s why hand washing is so critical. You can’t disinfect the world.”

“One of the payoffs, is (hand washing) prevents the common colds, too, because at any given time there are a half-dozen colds in circulation.”

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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