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Story - Education

Sep 29, 2009 12:02 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

School officials prepare for possible outbreak of swine flu

Sep 29, 2009 12:02 PM

With the start of the flu season approaching, 71 superintendents from across Suffolk County recently met with the county’s commissioner of health, Humayun J. Chaudhry, to coordinate plans to contain the spread of swine flu, otherwise known as the H1N1 virus, at schools.

The meeting followed an August 18 summit in Stony Brook, where U.S. Representative Tim Bishop met with Suffolk County hospital and college officials to discuss the likelihood of outbreaks.

Officials have been on the alert in recent months as a White House panel report to President Obama warned of possible outbreaks of the virus this fall. According to the August 17 report, up to 90,000 people could die, and 1.8 million could require hospitalization this year due to the illness.

To date, 9,079 people have been hospitalized and 593 people have died in the United States this year after being infected with the swine flu, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Suffolk County, meanwhile, has seen only a limited number of swine flu cases since the disease first appeared in Mexico in April. According to the Suffolk County Health Department, more than 125 people have been infected and eight died this year after being infected with the virus. All of those who died had existing health issues when infected.

Nonetheless, Mr. Bishop said officials are concerned that additional outbreaks of swine flu will be triggered now that children have returned to school.

Swine flu, a type of influenza virus that affects the respiratory system, is spread mainly by coughing or sneezing. People can also become infected by touching something with the virus on it then touching their mouth or nose, according to the CDC. Swine flu symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, including fever, cough, runny nose and sore throat.

As kids returned to classes last week, school administrators briefed staff on the symptoms of swine flu and how to prevent its spread. Schools were also expected to send students home with packets of information about swine flu.

Sag Harbor Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Gratto, who receives regular swine flu e-mail updates from Commissioner Chaudhry, could not remember another instance where schools and the county were in such close communication over a virus.

“It is unusual,” Dr. Gratto said. “But it shows the concern that the Suffolk County Health Department has with the swine flu. It shows that everybody is taking the issue seriously.”

Dr. Gratto’s school district was not immune to the swine flu during nationwide outbreaks last spring. In Sag Harbor, two students at Pierson High School were infected with the flu. The students returned to school about a week after coming down with the illness, Dr. Gratto said.

The superintendent briefed staff about swine flu and “about all precautions to take in preventing communicable diseases,” Dr. Gratto said.

Starting on September 14, Sag Harbor teachers were also expected to instruct students in proper sneezing and coughing techniques. “It’s something we are taking seriously,” Dr. Gratto said.

Southampton School District Superintendent Dr. Richard Boyes, who was also at the meeting with Dr. Chaudhry, said his district, like many others, will continue with its normal cleaning routine this fall. Special attention, however, will be given to items that are most prone to transmitting disease, such as computer keyboards and gym mats, he said.

Dr. Chaudhry has urged school administrators not to shut schools down if kids come down with swine flu symptoms. Rather, educators should quarantine infected students until the child’s parent can bring the child home to recover. At least one Long Island school district, Deer Park, shut down for a week in May when swine flu infected four students.

“If, in fact, we see [swine flu symptoms], we will be asking those kids to go home, and we will keep those kids isolated in the nurse’s office until the parents come to pick them up,” Dr. Boyes said.

Though New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced recently that the city will provide free swine flu vaccinations to more than 1.1 million city elementary school children this fall, Suffolk County Health Department spokeswoman Grace McGovern said no such proposal is in the works for Suffolk. Still, free vaccinations will be available beginning in October at all 10 county health clinics, she said.

Pregnant women, young people age 6 months to 24 years, the elderly, and anyone with an underlying illness are recommended to get the vaccinations, the spokeswoman said.

“It’s out there,” Ms. McGovern said. “H1N1 is out there, and we expect to see an outbreak again.”

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'kids ages six months to 24 years'
24 months?
By Quioguebirder (10), on Sep 14, 09 2:36 PM
One solution:You know, the grocery store" STOP AND SHOP", in Riverhead (great store by the way), offers free sanitizing towelettes from a free standing germ- free dispenser, at the entrance of their store. Southampton Hospital also offers this.. Now, if at least the schools did this, then, I truly believe that certain virus's would be kept in check.Other businesses might even follow suit, If money is an issue, then a donation with a plague naming the contributor would be appropriate, (non- commercial ...more
By Johnny Nova (83), Northampton on Sep 15, 09 8:25 PM
I meant to say "Plaque" (LOL), at the end of my "One Solution Comment above. Sorry.
By Johnny Nova (83), Northampton on Sep 23, 09 5:04 PM
FYI, Sothampton schoolshave these dispensers!
By courtesy (43), Southampton on Sep 24, 09 10:25 AM
Hey, Johnny Nova, don't give up on the plague naming the contributor. Swine not? LOL for sure -- good one!
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Sep 29, 09 9:37 PM