The majority of local school districts have received extensive information about the H1NI virus and have preventative measures in place that should give parents peace of mind when they send their children off to school this fall.
Julie Germann, Monett School District's assistant superintendent, and Linda Lauderdale, district head nurse, have met and discussed issues related to the H1N1 virus, and Germann recently attended a meeting in Columbia on the virus. New guidelines were released and are just now reaching the schools.
"The guidelines are just now becoming clearer in terms of what their recommendations are for schools," Germann said. "There are still some very vague areas, especially in terms of vaccinations and who receives them. This is what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization have been working together on all summer."
According to Germann, the CDC is saying it is inevitable schools are going to deal with cases of the flu, whether it is seasonal or H1N1. She said the idea of closing schools is no longer what the CDC recommends.
"For our district we have a two-fold plan," Germann said. "The first plan is how we are going to look at prevention, which is hand washing and emphasizing the custodial care on common places of contact.
"The next step that we are looking at and taking," Germann continued, "is to amplify our screening with symptoms and signs of the illness and what to do at that point."
According to Germann, the CDC recommends that if a child comes to school with a hacking cough and fever, it is a potential influenza. The student is to be isolated and possibly masked if isolation cannot take place until their parents arrive.
"The rest is really up to the parents," Germann stated. "They need to stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours. They need to be isolated and away from siblings and treated appropriately. The important fact is just not returning to school to quickly."
Purdy Schools Superintendent Jerry Lingo stated that at this time the district is applying its general guidelines for dealing with the regular flu season, which include normal hygiene and staying home when sick. Lingo also stated that he would be attending meetings on the subject in the near future.
Rebecca Mayberry, RN, who serves as school nurse at the Verona R-7 School District, said the district has a specific plan in place to deal with an outbreak of the H1N1 virus should it occur.
"For the past few years we have had a plan in place if needed for our school to respond to pandemic flu," said Mayberry. "Every school year we emphasize good handwashing to prevent infections. Last school year, we increased our efforts."
Mayberry stated that last year some of the staff performed a skit for the elementary students to demonstrate basic flu prevention techniques and provided interactive learning on health and flu prevention. Booklets about flu prevention were distributed to each student to give to parents.
"This year we will continue with ongoing education of staff, students and parents," Mayberry said. "We have been in close contact with the Lawrence County Health Department to keep up on the latest information."
According to David Compton, director of the Barry County Office of Emergency Management, there are some simple preventative measures that parents, teachers and students can take to reduce their potential for acquiring the virus.
"Most people are aware that earlier in the season we had several youngsters and staff at a Barry County summer camp test positive for the H1N1 virus," said Compton, "and it is likely that Barry County will again see several cases during the fall outbreak that has been predicted."
According to Compton, students, parents and teachers should follow the old fashioned hygiene rules of covering mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing, so the virus will not be spread through hand-to-hand or hand-to-surface contact.
Hands should be washed with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds or about how long it takes to say the alphabet. Alcohol-based hand sanitizing solutions that are readily available at any retail outlet can be used, and those suffering from flu symptoms are urged to stay home when sick. Hand sanitizing agents should be rubbed into the skin until dry.
"Schools are one of the most common breeding grounds for illnesses to be both generated and passed along into the public sector," said Compton.
Compton added that cleaning surfaces of commonly shared items such as phones, desks, door knobs and tables is a must for the prevention of illness.
On the subject of deciding on a course of action to fight the H1N1 virus on a national level, the CDC and its partners will continuously look for changes in the severity of influenza-like illness and will share what is learned with state and local agencies. More information about the H1N1 virus can be accessed at www.flu.gov.