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Schools team up with health district to prevent swine flu

Parents encouraged to aid efforts by teaching, implementing healthy habits

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

Area schools will be stressing common sense as the academic year begins.

In preparation of another year and the normal flu season, local school divisions are also readying themselves for the other illness hanging over their heads -- Novel Influenza A H1N1, commonly known as swine flu.

Superintendents are keeping in close contact with the Lord Fairfax Health District, and vice versa, said Dr. Stephen Haering, the director of the agency, to ensure that when, and not if, students and staff contract the virus it will be identified quickly and prevented from spreading. But they can only do so much, he adds.

"H1N1 is a community problem," Haering said. "It's a business problem, a hospital problem. It really needs a community response."

As a result, in addition to the healthy practices to be emphasized at school, parents -- who will receive a letter from superintendents and the Virginia Department of Health -- must do their part in re-emphasizing frequent handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes in their elbows, and must keep their children home if they are sick, he said.

Also, Haering is adamant that parents not send children to school with Tylenol or Advil to reduce fever. Children should be sent to school only after their fever is gone for 24 hours without medication.

"It's a lot of common sense ... teaching and practicing safe health practices," said Steve Edwards, a spokesman for Frederick County Public Schools. "If you're a parent, don't send your kid to school sick."

Young children are among the high-risk groups who have greater odds for
complications of the virus. Symptoms of swine flu include fever, cough and sore throat, as well as headache, chills, fatigue and body aches. People with swine flu are contagious for up to seven days after the onset of illness, and possibly longer.

The Centers for Disease Control reports more than 1 million cases of the flu in the United States, Haering said. An H1N1 vaccine should be available by mid-October, he said, but details are still being worked out.

"This is an evolving situation," Haering said.

Mike Murphy, superintendent of Clarke County Public Schools, said the idea is not to send anyone into a panic as schools push for healthy lifestyles. Instead, everyone should take this time to "slow down," he said, and put health first.

"We're not doing anything super novel or super different," Murphy said.

Like other school systems, Winchester Public Schools will be closely monitoring illnesses and absenteeism and ensuring that emergency contact information is up to date, Superintendent Ricky Leonard said.

"We're all following the CDC guidelines," he said.

Hand sanitizer will become a school's best friend this year. Frederick County, for one, will have it available in all classrooms, Edwards said. Shenandoah County Public Schools, meanwhile, will have it in high-traffic areas, Superintendent Keith Rowland said.

But, as Haering notes, schools play only one part in keeping students healthy. Edwards shares the director's view.

"This is a community issue," he said. "Schools are getting a lot of focus because of the large concentration of young people, but it truly is a community issue. While we can do all we can, [healthy] practices need to be exhibited throughout the community -- at homes, at jobs. We all need to be aware of the most healthy practices."

Classes begin Wednesday in Winchester as well as Warren, Frederick and Clarke counties. Public schools in Shenandoah County open Sept. 8.




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