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Local schools keep eye on flu cases
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Tips to avoid the flu

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • If you get influenza, the Center for Disease Control recommends staying home to help prevent the spread of illness to others. Persons with more severe symptoms, or who seem to be getting worse instead of better, should contact their health care provider.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.

Source: District 2 Public Health

Concerns over spread of the H1N1 flu virus have area school officials keeping a close eye out for any outbreaks and planning how to react if and when there are.

That concern may be fueled further by a report Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta that about 1 in 13 deaths from the virus have been children, most of them school aged. More than 40 U.S. children have died from the virus since it was first identified in this country in April.

Hall County and Gainesville school officials report they have had some suspected cases of the H1N1, also known as swine flu, but none have been confirmed through laboratory testing.

Like all schools in the area, educators are following the CDC’s protocol for the H1N1 flu and are urging sick students to stay at home and for those at school to take extra care in not spreading germs.

School nurses in Hall County this week were monitoring students who have been seen in the clinic with flu-like symptoms, Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said. Their procedures include immediate notification of parents, separating the child with the symptoms from the general school population and keeping data to track students with symptoms of flu-like illness, he said. The data is shared on a daily basis with the principal of the school as well as with Mamie Coker, the system’s health services coordinator.

Coker said the system has not yet seen a spike in absenteeism as a result of the flu.

In Jackson County, school officials continue to monitor the "flu situation" in their 13 schools. According to a Sept. 1 news release, Superintendent Shannon Adams and staff participated in a conference call with Rhonda Medows, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Health, about how to handle flu cases in the schools.

"According to Commissioner Medows, the severity of the ‘new’ H1N1 flu is remaining mild to moderate, and the recommendations given for minimizing its impact continue to be the ones we have been
following all along: sending sick students home, thorough cleaning and sanitizing procedures, encouraging adequate hand washing (and) emphasizing healthy coughing and sneezing ‘etiquette,’" Adams said in the release.

The Office of Emergency Management has requested that the school system advise them if the absentee rate exceeds 10 percent, "and so far we have not been close to that," Adams said.

The only confirmed case of the swine flu in Jackson County was reported Aug. 14 at Kings Bridge Middle School. School officials were notified Aug. 13 and custodians cleaned the building early the next morning before the students got there, concentrating on the wing where the sick student was and all surfaces that students come in contact with the most, such as keyboards and doorknobs.

The first case of H1N1 in the Northeast Health District, which covers 10 counties around Athens, including Jackson County and neighboring Barrow County, came in June when a 15-year-old female resident of Barrow County experienced mild flu-like symptoms and was confirmed to have that strain of influenza. The girl is now fully recovered, the Northeast Health District has reported.

The CDC’s first detailed study of U.S. children killed by swine flu found the outbreak differs from ordinary flu in at least one puzzling respect: It appears to be taking a higher toll on school-age youngsters than on babies and toddlers.

At least 40 children have died, accounting for about 1 in 13 U.S. swine flu deaths, scientists said Thursday. Two-thirds of those already had high-risk health problems, confirming what officials have been saying about who is most vulnerable to swine flu.

It is not clear whether the new virus is more dangerous than ordinary seasonal flu for kids, though some health officials suspect it is. But the analysis shows some preliminary and important differences:

Normally, half or more of the children who die of the flu are 4 and younger. But more than 80 percent of the kids who died with swine flu were ages 5 through 17. Dr. Beth Bell, a CDC epidemiologist, said that may be because older children spend time at school and summer camp, exposed to more people than younger children kept at home.

Almost two-thirds of the children who died with swine flu had epilepsy, cerebral palsy or other neurodevelopmental conditions. In a previous flu season, only a third of the children who died had those conditions.

Swine flu is now responsible for almost all flu cases in the United States. It has caused more than 1 million illnesses so far, though most were mild and not reported, the CDC estimates. More than 550 lab-confirmed deaths and 8,800 hospitalizations have been reported.

Those statistics don’t mean the new flu is worse than seasonal flu, which is particularly lethal to the elderly and plays a role in an estimated 36,000 deaths each year, the CDC says.

But swine flu is causing more suffering in children and young adults than is customary, and a lot of parents are worried. Some emergency room doctors say they are seeing a lot of mildly ill children brought in by parents fearful that it is a swine flu case that will turn worse.

Right now, cases are most common in the Southeast, possibly because schools are already in session, providing more opportunity for infections to spread, CDC officials said.

However, there are no signs that the virus is mutating to become more deadly, as some scientists feared, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said

Each year 50 to 100 children die of seasonal flu. But it’s hard to say whether children account for a higher proportion of deaths from swine flu than they do from seasonal flu. The CDC doesn’t monitor seasonal flu deaths as closely as it does swine flu, and has no comprehensive count of each year’s flu deaths to enable such a comparison.

Claire Miller of The Times regional staff and Associated Press reports contributed to this story.