With the school year just a few short weeks away, federal health officials have put together a list of guidelines for education leaders to follow to prevent the spread of the H1N1 swine flu.
The timing of last spring’s H1N1 flu outbreak, toward the end of the school year and at the end of the normal flu season, may have helped keep the new strain of flu from spreading even further. That doesn’t mean H1N1 won’t make a resurgence as kids return to school this fall and start spreading germs.
The Department of Education, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have put together guidelines for local school leaders to determine what action to take if there is an outbreak of H1N1 among students. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says, “The guidance gives schools the flexibility they need to distinguish between what to do when there are just a few cases of children showing symptoms in a school, or if the number showing symptoms rapidly climbs from day to day.”
Health officials are urging students and teachers to utilize common sense preventative measures to reduce the risk of spreading H1N1 flu, just as they would for seasonal flu. Director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden says it’s hard to predict how widespread H1N1 will be as schools reopen. “Influenza may be the least predictable of all infectious diseases. It’s possible we’ll have lots of cases when schools reopen. It’s also possible we won’t have cases until later on in the season.”
“We hope no schools have to close, but realistically, we believe some schools will close this fall,” Duncan says. That’s why he’s recommending schools establish plans to keep the education process going, even if the school doors are closed. “Educators need to start thinking about having temporary home schooling plans in place, using phones and the internet, whether it’s just for a handful of students, or for an entire school.”
A vaccine for H1N1 should be ready by mid-October, but even when it’s available, it will take some time for the vaccine to take effect. That’s especially the case for children who will need two doses of the vaccine, with the second dose at least two weeks after the first. After those two doses, it will take another two weeks for full immunity.
Since the outbreak earlier this year, 436 people nationwide have died from H1N1 flu. More than 6,500 have been hospitalized with H1N1. Regionally , there are nearly 2,000 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania, nearly 1,000 in New Jersey, and about 400 in Delaware.
Click here for more tips for dealing with H1N1 from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan: