August 27, 2009

Officials Urge Schools to Prepare for Return of Flu

Sure it is still summertime, but flu season is on the mind of both health and education leaders as kids started back to school across the state of Missouri last week.

The Scotland County R-I Board of Education discussed flu-related policies at the August 13th meeting.

Superintendent Dave Shalley reviewed procedures with board members as the district works to help prevent a flu outbreak. Staff members will encourage frequent hand washing and the covering of ones mouth when coughing.

The district will also work to isolate kids with temperatures as soon as possible, while stressing to parents the need to keep sick kids home. The district is asking students who have temperatures not to return to school for 24 hours after the temperature is absent.

Whats good about these common-sense tips is that they can help children and adults prevent all sorts of infectious diseases, not just the flu, said Scotland County Health Department administrator said.

The health department is working with the school, and the community as whole to prepare for flu season.

Children are particularly susceptible to H1N1 flu, and once it gets a foothold in a school, the virus can spread quickly, said Margaret Curry, Administrator of the Scotland County Health Department. Since there is no vaccine available yet, its important for students, parents, and teachers to take steps now to avoid spreading this virus.

These points were reiterated in a rare joint statement to local school officials made by the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Commissioner of Education. The leaders are urging all schools to get ready for a possible resurgence of the H1N1 flu.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on August 19th sent a notice to public school officials from Margaret Donnelly, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), and Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro.

Although the H1N1 virus has caused mild symptoms in most people this year, it has disproportionately affected school-age children, Donnelly said. Therefore, it has the potential to cause major disruptions this fall in schools across the country. It is more important than ever for schools to be ready from the first day of classes for a possible outbreak.

Schools always have to deal with outbreaks of flu, measles and other infectious diseases, but it is usually not an issue until wintertime. Now, educators, parents, school nurses and students need to be more vigilant so that we can limit the spread of flu, Nicastro said.

Nicastro said that state education officials are working closely with staff of the DHSS to provide local school officials with the latest flu-related guidance. Parents and educators may obtain current information from the State of Missouri Web site and from the DHSS Web site.

The letter also notes that a new flu vaccine is being developed and could be ready for initial use by October. When the vaccine becomes available, schools may be called upon to help conduct vaccination clinics.

Nicastro urged parents to plan ahead and prepare for the possibility that a child may need to stay home for a few days if the child develops flu-like symptoms.

We all must recognize the potential for a serious flu outbreak and take the necessary precautions. Nobody wants students or teachers to miss school, but if they are having symptoms, they will need to stay home. We must work together to help keep everybody healthy and keep our schools operating as normally as possible, Nicastro said.

As the flu season ramps up, Curry said the health department will provide updates about the flu, its prevention, and available vaccinations. Schools, businesses, and individuals should monitor the latest guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), available online at www. cdc.gov/h1n1flu.

The Scotland County Health Department is committed to the protection and enhancement of health and the quality of life for all members of our community. For more information, call (660) 465-7275.

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