Now that a teacherís strike has been averted and the kids are back in school, parents have one more thing to worry about.
It has been estimated that 50 percent of Americans could contract some form of the H1N1 virus, otherwise known as the swine flu, this season alone. With numbers that high, local school districts and the Snohomish Health District are prepared for the worse case scenario.
“The only thing certain is uncertainty,” April Zepeda, Media and Communications Manager for the Everett Clinic said. “The White House task force that released those numbers acknowledged they were a planning scenario, not a prediction. But the flu virus is capable of changing very quickly. Unfortunately when school begins, transmission increases. Thatís when we will have a better idea about the severity and spread of the virus.”
We have already reached pandemic proportions concerning the swine flu, Dr. Gary Goldbaum, M.D., M.P.H., the Health Officer for Snohomish County and Director of Snohomish Health District explains.
“Pandemic means rapid spread of a
disease worldwide,” he said. “We are in the midst of a pandemic right now. It
is infecting every population and based on what we faced in the spring it is
comparable to seasonal influenza.”
Both the Lake Stevens and Granite Falls School Districts have plans in place in case of an outbreak of the swine flu, however, the State of Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction cautions school districts about closing schools.
“Under our current plan, we are advising schools to stay open,” State Superintendent Randy Dorn said in a statement. ìThere are specific steps to take if a student or teacher becomes ill. But we donít want a repeat of what happened last May when schools in our state closed after the first reports of H1N1 surfaced. This fall, the severity of the virus will be the biggest factor in what measures our schools will take to maintain a continuity of education.”
One of the main concerns is keeping the virus from spreading. Reminding students of basic personal hygiene and keeping schools clean will be key in keeping illnesses to a minimum.
“Children in our schools spend a lot of time together in close proximity,” Dorn said. “The virus is passed from one person to another, so weíre concerned as students return to school. Everyone must practice good hygiene to slow the spread of the flu when it starts.”
Granite Falls School District has plans
in place to help keep the virus to a minimum.
“Our staff will continue to encourage students to cover cough/sneezes and to wash hands frequently as the best prevention methods; health attendants will be closely monitoring students for symptoms; custodial staff members will continue to be extra vigilant in cleaning common areas (table tops, door handles); and of course we will maintain contact with the Snohomish County Health District for the latest, most accurate information and work with the Health Department on all related procedures,î Kathy Grant, Community Relations Director for the Granite Falls School District said. ìParents should contact their family doctor with any specific questions, or if their child is showing flu-like symptoms (or any illness) to determine if testing or treatment is needed.”
The Lake Stevens School District has similar plans in place. Both districts ask that parents keep their kids home from school if there is any question regarding their illness, especially if the child is running a fever.
“We will monitor absenteeism at all schools and when schools reach an absenteeism of 10 we automatically report to the health district. We will then make appropriate decisions for possible closure and parent/staff notification,”Arlene Hulten, Community Relations Director for the Lake Stevens School District said.
The district will also ask students and staff who are ill to remain home for 24 hours after they are symptom free.
“We will also be routinely cleaning the buildings to include all areas that are highly touched– hand rails, door handles and entry ways,” Hulten said. “There will also be sanitizing products in schools and classrooms.”
Washing your hands frequently and
keeping them away from your face are a top priority.
Also, stay away from people who are sick. If you do get sick, stay home so you donít pass it on and always cover your cough.
While a small number of those who do contract the H1N1 virus will become very ill and there is a minute percentage in which the virus can be fatal, most will recover quickly. There are some steps you should take if you do get sick.
“Most healthy people recover from the swine flu without complications,” Zepeda said. “Just like with seasonal flu, it’s important to stay home from work or school, get lots of rest and drink plenty of liquids. If you leave the house to seek medical attention, wear a facemask if available. Those who are severely sick or at high risk for flu complications should contact their doctor. A health care provider can determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed. Antiviral drugs can treat those who are seriously ill.”
The question is what symptoms should I look for?
“The symptoms of H1N1 flu are similar to seasonal flu. They include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue,” Zepeda explains.
The government is working on getting a
swine flu vaccine out into communities, but seasonal flu vaccines are currently
available and Snohomish Health District is encouraging everyone to receive this
“Seasonal influenza vaccines are already available and it is just starting to get out to the community,” Goldbaum said. “We urge everyone to consider getting that vaccine.”
The vaccine for the H1N1 virus will be available beginning the end of October. Those in high-risk categories will be given the vaccine first to help ensure the slow spread of the virus. Those most affected by H1N1 have been pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions. Individuals ages 15 to 50 have had more complications with the H1N1 virus than the typical seasonal flu virus.
Goldbaum explained that with the high rate of pregnant women contracting the virus in the spring, they will most likely be the first to receive the swine flu vaccine when it is available. Next will be those with children under six months old in the home.
“We will be distributing the vaccine to larger clinics and hospitals. We are trying to make it available as widely as possible throughout the community,” Goldbaum explains. “Potentially are going to be having mass vaccinations clinics as well, depending on when it will come and how much.”
Children ages six months to young adults to age 24 are
the group who spread the virus the quickest; this will be the most effective
group to receive the vaccine.
“This is the population most likely to be infected and spread the infection. If we can vaccinate this part of the population, it can slow the spread of the virus. We would also like to make sure teachers get immunize,” Goldbaum said.
Everett Clinic is waiting on vaccinations, but does have appointments available to those who may need extra patient care.
“We have physicians for pediatric and adult patients who are available for same-day appointments and we offer a walk in clinic for patients without an appointment, seven days a week,” Zepeda said. “We will also hold seasonal flu shot clinics at the Lake Stevens location throughout October on Wednesdays. Dates and times of H1N1 flu shot clinics have yet to be determined.”
Snohomish County and the State of Washington have done a reasonably good job in providing information to the public and keeping them aware of the H1N1 virus and they continue to be confident that our communities will have the best efforts made to keep the spread of the infection to a minimum.
“There’s a lot going into preparing for the fall flu season,” Goldbaum said. “This public health agency is working hard with partners throughout the community. We are all working together. I’m confident that we are going to be able to address the challenge.”
The best way to keep the infection from spreading is wash your hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes and stay home if you’re sick.
With the economy the way it is today,
it may be hard for some families to stay home from work and keep children home
from school when they are sick, but this will protect others from getting sick
and keep the virus from spreading, Goldbaum explained.
For more information on the pandemic plans for both the Lake Stevens School District and the Granite Falls School District you can visit their websites.
You can also visit the Snohomish Health District website, the Everett Clinic’s website and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website for an information regarding seasonal flu and swine flu.