A lesson plan for swine flu
Summer quieted widespread fears of swine flu, but the virus continues to circulate and might cause trouble now that the 180,000 or so students enrolled in Franklin County schools have traded in their swimsuits and baseball mitts for new sneakers and backpacks.
One thing that summer reminded health officials of, thanks to flu-tainted summer camps, is that lots of young people in close proximity can mean trouble. "As soon as you got children together in groups, we saw it just take off," said Debbie Coleman, assistant Columbus health commissioner.
With no vaccine ready to protect against the spread of swine flu, known formally as H1N1, health and school leaders are focusing on containing it with the best resource they have: common sense. "It's things that we know, but it's things that are incredibly effective: washing the hands often and thoroughly, covering the cough. We're asking that this be emphasized from the beginning of school," Coleman said.
Most students who reported to classrooms in recent weeks were schooled in good hygiene, and many were sent home with information for their parents, including a plea to keep Junior home from school if he's sick.
The most recent guidance from federal health officials says that anyone with the flu should stay home for 24 hours after his or her fever breaks without help from fever-reducing medication.
In Franklin County, the Education Council is coordinating efforts to encourage accurate communication to students and parents. Hy-giene, said chief executive officer Bob Bowers, was an emphasis from Day One.
A chief concern is vaccination against swine flu, but much of that planning - including whether to offer shots at school - is speculative as everyone awaits approval of a vaccine. Once one is approved, it's unclear how much will be available and when.
Pregnant women, other high-risk groups, health-care providers and young people are likely to be first in line. If there's enough to vaccinate children, some districts might opt to do so in schools. Others might find it impractical, said county Health Commissioner Susan Tilgner. The vaccines being tested are a two-shot series delivered weeks apart.
Health experts are focusing for now on seasonal flu shots, which are expected in late September and in ample supply. Widespread protection against seasonal flu will help contain the overall situation, experts say.
A new strain of flu commonly referred to as swine flu, and formally known as H1N1, began sickening Americans this year. Some figures on the outbreak:
- 7,511: U.S. hospitalizations because of swine flu (48 in Ohio, 14 in Franklin County).
- 477: Deaths attributed to swine flu nationwide (one in Ohio).