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Educators: Swine flu cases few

Local school administrators are taking extra precautions tocheck the spread of the H1N1 “swine flu” at city and county schoolsthis year, but so far the virus doesn’t appear to be affectingeither educational system.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said atotal of seven children across her district have been sent homewith fever and other flu-like symptoms since the school year beganon Aug. 6. Five of those children have returned to school and theremaining two – who fell ill more recently – have not beendiagnosed with confirmed cases of swine flu.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister,meanwhile, said only one student in the county system was sent homewith flu-like symptoms about two weeks ago. That child, too, hassince recovered and returned to school.

Barrett pointed out, however, that school administrators maynever know if children sent home ill were actually infected withswine flu or not.

“The thing nobody’s talking about is that under HIPPA (HealthInsurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws, parents are notobliged to tell us if their children have swine flu,” she said. “Wecan know a child is out for three or four days with fever, but wemay not know why that is.”

But as long as that child recovers and returned healthily toschool, whether he or she contracted swine flu may be a mootpoint.

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, a health officer with the Mississippi StateDepartment of Mental Health’s District Seven, which servesSouthwest Mississippi, said swine flu in children should beapproached in the same manner parents and teachers would approachregular influenza.

“The severity of the illness is not any worse than typical flu,”he said. “There’s nothing significantly different from the typicalflu we see from year to year. It’s new, and it’s getting peopleoverly worried.”

Dobbs said the symptoms of swine flu are basically identical tothose of regular flu – fever, cough, chills, fatigue – except thatswine flu has so far caused digestive ailments like diarrhea andvomiting.

Children and adults showing such symptoms should stay home fromschool and work, Dobbs said, and not return until they have gone 24hours without fever, without the aid of fever-reducing drugs likeTylenol or Motrin, which may be the best medicine to administer. Hesaid children suffering from flu-like symptoms should not be givenaspirin, as it may cause Reye’s Syndrome, which could lead to liverfailure.

Swine flu could be particularly harmful to pregnant women, Dobbssaid, and they should seek medical attention immediately ifdiagnosed or displaying symptoms.

Though H1N1 is not creating havoc in Mississippi, Dobbs said allcases of flu currently occurring in the state are likely cases ofswine flu. He said all flu cases identified by MSDH over the pastseveral weeks have been swine flu, and the virus has likelyoccurred in each of the state’s 82 counties on a small scale.

Dobbs said there have been 499 cases of swine flu in Mississippithis year, with one resulting in death. The person who died fromthe illness was already affected by other medical conditions, hesaid.

“In the context of the flu, it’s important to remember the(regular) flu kills around 30,000 people a year in the U.S.,” hesaid. “We’re used to it. Don’t panic – use common sense. Like anyviral illness, we really need to be vigilant about stopping thespread by following good hand hygiene practices, using a good,alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”

So far, local school systems are doing just that.

Both Barrett and Brister said school officials in theirdistricts are following cleanliness guidelines handed down from theMississippi Department of Education and taking extra steps to makesure bathrooms and classrooms are virus-free.

“The teachers are doing extra hand cleaning, extra watching -just being more alert to the signs,” Brister said. “If a family hadone child sick with it, we’d ask them to keep the others at home.Sometimes we probably overreact, but we’re very concerned about itand we’re keeping a close eye on it.”

Barrett said her teachers are likewise hitting student surfaceswith extra Clorox wipes and making sure bathrooms are stocked withplenty of sanitizer. School nurses are stressing cough etiquette,she said.

“We’re just trying to reduce the spread of germs,” Barrett said.”That’s where the emphasis is right now.”

Further information on the H1N1 swine flu virus may be foundonline at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Website at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/, or at the MSDH Web site atwww.msdh.state.ms.us.