Schools prepare for H1N1 flu cases

Published 1:03 pm Friday, August 21, 2009

Though school just began Aug. 13, about 14 cases of probable H1N1 flu cases have already been reported across Shelby County Schools.

“We had two students before school ever started that were reported,” said school spokeswoman Cindy Warner. “Parents have already been really good about leaving the kids at home if they are sick.”

Despite the early cases, Assistant Superintendent Tom Ferguson said parents should not be alarmed.

Ferguson said all Shelby County schools have a general pandemic flu plan.

“If the number of cases of flu, including those of personnel, gets to a point where we simply cannot hold classes then a school closure might be in order,” Ferguson said. “But we are nowhere near that yet and don’t expect to be.”

Ferguson said as this particular scenario plays out it’s becoming more clear the H1N1 virus is no more severe than your typical flu, unless a student has a prior medical complication. He said the system does not want to make light of those deaths that have occurred, but health experts expect most students to recover quickly if they do catch the virus.

“The symptoms are no more severe,” Ferguson said. “What is different is that this is a new strain so more people are susceptible to it. This means we have to monitor the number of cases we have in our schools and try to control it.”

Ferguson said school nurses and teachers are encouraging their students to keep up basic hygiene practices.

Students are instructed to wash their hands frequently, sneeze or cough into their sleeve or a tissue and not their hands, to alert a teacher if they have a headache or if their body aches and not to drink or eat after one another.

Ferguson stressed the importance of parents keeping children home no less than 24 hours after their illness abates.

During the school day, nurses and teachers monitor students for symptoms. Should a child present with a fever or body aches they are isolated in the school’s health room until a parent can pick them up.

Ferguson said he fully expects each Shelby County School to take part in voluntary flu shot clinics later this fall.

He said details of the clinics have yet to be worked out, but he knows they will be voluntary and expects they could begin in early November.

Meanwhile, the University of Montevallo is preparing to resume classes Aug. 31. Students move into dorms Aug. 26.

“We have the benefit of reading about what is going on at other campuses before we open,” said President Philip Williams. “We plan to talk with students about the virus at orientation. We want to tell them about the availability of hand sanitizer, face masks and empty rooms to isolate sick students.”

Williams said they prefer all students to go home when they come down with the flu, but will make every effort to isolate those students who aren’t able to leave campus. He said they are also paying close attention to students with prior medical conditions, who have disabilities or who might be pregnant. UM also provided a bulletin to faculty and staff reminding them of precautions to take.