A new school year is approaching, and with thousands of students cramming into the same classrooms and buildings, officials from the Lee County School District want parents to know that a policy is in place to deal with the spread of H1N1.
The district had its first case of swine flu in May when a student at Spring Creek Elementary tested positive for H1N1, commonly referred to as "swine flu." District spokesperson Joe Donzelli said a plan has been in place for more than two years to deal with the transmission of any potentially dangerous virus.
"I think the first thing people need to understand is that we had plans in place for quite some time," said Donzelli. "This really all just sprung a couple years ago out of bird flu."
Flu season generally falls during the school year, in the winter and spring, leaving schools vulnerable to the spread of the flu.
School policy stresses two things, said Donzelli. Specifically, keeping children home if they are sick and isolating them from other children or public places.
Each school campus has a location where any symptomatic students will be isolated from the student population and evaluated by a clinical assistant or nurse. Parents will be contacted to pick up their children and, most importantly, they should stay home until they no longer exhibit symptoms.
"If the symptoms persist for 24 to 48 hours, we suggest they get medical attention by health care provider," said Donzelli.
During the school year, the district will educate students on how to properly wash their hands and to cough in their elbow rather than their hand. In the past, hand sanitizers have been banned from schools, but Donzelli said that rule is being lifted to give students another tool in their arsenal to kill viruses.
"Because this is a unique situation the district is allowing hand sanitizers to be used by students, but they must be used under adult supervision," he said. "We would prefer the teacher dispenses and oversees the use of hand sanitizers, especially the elementary students."
Sharon Warnecke, coordinator of Health Services at the Lee County School District, said that nurses monitor student attendance to see how many students are out on any given day and why. They also monitor student symptoms to see if a "cluster" of children have the same symptoms.
"If it turns out they have similar symptoms we look at it as a cluster," said Warnecke. "The health department is put on notice."
According to Donzelli, the Lee County Health Department makes a final ruling on whether school is cancelled over an outbreak of Swine Flu or any other illnesses.
Warnecke added that the health department has been provided with funds to set up flu clinics for families to receive a vaccination for this year's strain of influenza and a swine flu shot as soon as its finished being synthesized. The season flu vaccination is now available and the swine flu vaccine should be ready as early as October.
Officials from the health department expect rates of swine flu to increase when the school year begins.
"I don't think there's any doubt that we're going to see an increase in H1N1 cases when kids go back to school," said Jennifer James-Mesloh, spokesperson for the Lee County Health Department. "It's just logical sense. It's easy to pass those germs."
Information on the H1N1 virus is posted on the Lee County School District's Web site (www.leeschools.net). Warnecke said an information bulletin is going home with elementary students on the first day of school.