Eagle County schools prepare for flu | VailDaily.com

Eagle County schools prepare for flu

Sarah Mausolf
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – If a child says home sick from Eagle County Schools this year, the parent can expect a new question from the secretary – does your child have the flu?

That’s because the schools will be keeping a weekly tally of how many students are out sick with flu symptoms, district spokesman Matt Earle said.

It’s one way school officials can track the severity of flu in schools as the nation braces for a return of swine flu, or H1N1.

“Right now, H1N1 is not looking more severe than seasonal flu in the past,” said Becky Larson, an epidemiologist with the Eagle County health department.

That said, it is a new strain of flu, and the school district will be working closely with the county to prepare its defense.

Earle said teachers will stress frequent hand washing for students, and school officials are encouraging parents to keep sick kids home from school.

When it comes to monitoring the flu this year, the county health department won’t be distinguishing between the seasonal flu and H1N1, except in severe cases.

“We really want the community to be more focused on flu in general and not so focused on counting the cases,” Larson said.

The school district will send the weekly tally of students who are out sick to the county health department, which will monitor the severity of the illness.

If students are hospitalized with severe cases of flu, that could trigger a second line of defense, Larson said. Under that scenario, schools may conduct daily screenings to test students for fever. Also, officials could ask children to stay home if they are at high risk for flu complications or have a sick member of their household, Larson said.

Under what circumstances schools should close is a topic of debate.

“It depends on the severity and the extent of the illness,” Larson said. “Also, we’d really need to think about the negative impact of closing the schools: Where would those children go? Would we really be preventing the spread of disease if they did stay home from school?”

A vaccine for H1N1 could become available as early as mid-October, Larson said.

“It could be that we set up a flu clinic at the schools,” she said. “We’re still trying to decide what the best method is to reach the school-age children.”

Meanwhile, school officials are encouraging parents to make sure their children get the shot for seasonal flu as soon as it becomes available.

If a student in the district contracts swine flu, Avon parent Davalyn Torres wants to know.

“I think it’s good to let parents of a particular school know so they can take precautions,” she said. “Especially for parents with kids who are prone to getting sick more easily.”

Last school year, a teacher at Minturn Middle School contracted swine flu, and two students in the district – one at Red Sandstone Elementary and one at Meadow Mountain Elementary – were suspected of having it. The district sent home letters informing parents about the cases. Earle said those letters did not specify the school, student or teacher because school officials were asked to keep personal information private,

Because the county won’t be distinguishing between swine flu and seasonal flu this year, it won’t report mild cases of swine flu to the school district.

“Really the only testing for H1N1 at this time would be in severe cases,” Larson said. “The state has put some guidelines on when to test, so it would not be for outpatient cases. The shift has really gone from case counting and trying to confirm cases to really just looking at influenza-like illness.”

If a severe case of swine flu is confirmed in the county, the state will report it to local public health agencies, Larson said. Larson said she and school officials have not yet discussed whether the county would report severe cases of swine flu to schools, and then parents.

“If parents have questions about that, it’s something that needs to be addressed,” Larson said.

As the flu season progresses, the school district plans to communicate with parents through letters, phone calls and its new Web site, eagleschools.net, Earle said.

The symptoms of swine flu – fever, cough, congestion and muscle aches or body aches – are similar to seasonal flu, Larson said.

“Really that indicator is that fever, so if a child has a fever they should stay home from school for 24 hours after the fever subsides, not using Tylenol or other fever-reducing medications,” she said.

Support Local Journalism