Flu scares hit schools

Posted 9/19/09

As flu cases pop up throughout the metro area, health officials are urging parents to take simple precautions and not overreact. Rumors began …

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Flu scares hit schools


As flu cases pop up throughout the metro area, health officials are urging parents to take simple precautions and not overreact.

Rumors began swirling this week about a possible outbreak of the H1N1 virus — commonly known as swine flu — at a Castle Rock daycare center. The cases have not been confirmed, and the children likely won’t be tested because of new protocols in dealing with influenza cases.

Dr. Richard Vogt, executive director of the Tri-County Health Department, said so many flu cases have been reported in Colorado that testing and tracking each virus would be “overwhelming.”

“There was an underreporting of H1N1,” he said. “At its peak, 40,000 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control, but the estimate was that there were a million cases.”

Influenza A was identified as the illness at the daycare center, but “it could be seasonal, it could be H1N1,” Vogt said.

The health agency is only notified of swine flu cases if a patient is hospitalized or dies from the illness. Rapid tests determine the presence of the influenza virus, but cannot distinguish the type, and testing is only being recommended to those in high-risk groups. H1N1 has been more prevalent in those under the age of 25, pregnant women and people with a history of chronic illness.

Attendance phone lines at local high schools ask parents to leave information if their child is exhibiting flu-like symptoms, and the cases are being closely monitored by Tri-County. If the standard number of absences doubles, the district will work with the health department to assess the situation, said Susan Meek, interim communications director for the school district.

ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch has experienced a recent jump in the number of possible flu cases, prompting a letter to parents from principal Carole Jennings. The school is being cleaned overnight to ensure surfaces and items that are more likely to have frequent hand contact are sanitized more frequently. Another rumor about possible swine flu cases at Douglas County High School is untrue, Meek said, adding it “would not surprise me if there are three cases of flu, but they don’t have near the number of cases to meet our thresholds.”

Some parents are upset that more is not being done to contain the spread of the virus. One Castle Rock mother, who did not want to be identified, said daycare providers and school teachers should have the ability to identify sick children and recommend that parents keep them away from other children.

“We can’t monitor what’s happening at the daycares and schools on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “They should have more discretion.”

The Douglas County School District allows teachers to send students to the nurses office if they show symptoms associated with the flu.

Those who exhibit flu-like symptoms should stay home from school or work until the symptoms cease for more than 24 hours without medication. The school district has established a new set of guidelines and made it easier for children who are out sick to make up class work.

Minor precautions, such as hand washing and social distancing, can go a long way toward preventing flu outbreaks.

“Distancing is going to be critical this fall,” Vogt said. “Having these kids in this [Castle Rock daycare] situation stay home is very important.”

Families should even take measures like establishing a sick room so siblings and parents are not continuously exposed to the virus, he said.

The most difficult part for the public has been sorting through differing reports on the severity of H1N1 compared to seasonal flu.

“It’s a cause for concern for parents because we hear conflicting opinions about the steps that should be taken,” the unidentified mother said.

Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said H1N1 “has not proven to be any more severe than seasonal influenza.” Those in high risk groups will be eligible for the H1N1 vaccine, once it is released en masse to the public this fall.


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