Schools alter closure plans for flu


POSTED: Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Even if children in Hawaii start coming down with swine flu, schools are not likely to close unless there are enough cases to hamper a school's operations, under current federal guidelines.

Previously, the government had advised shutting down campuses with one or more confirmed cases of H1N1 flu for two weeks. But because the current flu strain has proved relatively mild, and school closures are disruptive, that advice was scaled back yesterday.

;[Preview]    Three Cases of Swine Flu Found in Hawaii

The Centers for Disease Control confirmed three cases in Hawaii but believe that the virus was not spread to anyone else.

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No schools have been closed in Hawaii, but an estimated 726 schools across the country were shut yesterday for flu-related reasons, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“;We no longer feel that school closure is warranted,”; Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control, said yesterday. Authorities recommend that people with flu symptoms stay home for seven days or until at least 24 hours after symptoms stop, whichever is longer.

In Hawaii, three people have come down with confirmed cases of swine flu, including a child who fell ill after traveling to California and did not return to school because of the illness. In a separate incident, a soldier came home from Texas last month with the disease and infected his wife. Tripler Army Medical Center said the soldier and his wife were placed in home isolation and treated with antiviral medications.

All three patients recovered at home and are no longer contagious. The state Health Department is not naming the student's school because the child did not attend while sick. Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, said the family was seated at the back of the plane and that the child slept through most of the flight home from California. As a precaution, the Health Department is monitoring family contacts and getting in touch with passengers who sat near the child, she said.

No new probable cases of swine flu have surfaced in Hawaii. Nationally more than 400 cases have been confirmed in at least 38 states.

“;Our department continues to aggressively monitor for and investigate flu cases as we move into the next phase of our identification and testing of illness in the state,”; said Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino.

Thus far, the H1N1 virus is causing symptoms more like seasonal flu, Park said, “;but we still don't know for certain how it will keep developing.”;

“;The danger is to think it's not serious,”; said Park, who heads the Disease Control Outbreak Division. “;That leads into complacency that we see with seasonal flu, which is a serious illness. This is a completely novel H1N1 flu virus.”;

Residents are advised to follow simple hygiene rules and stay home if they are ill.

“;The most important thing to do right now is to stay informed and to take commonsense steps to protect your health and the health of your family,”; Park said.

The state Department of Education has contingency plans should the disease return in a more virulent form. For now the Centers for Disease Control says school closure in general “;is not advised unless there is a magnitude of faculty or student absenteeism that interferes with the schools' ability to function.”;

“;We do have a pandemic flu plan that we're going to edit based on what's going on with the disease,”; said Sandy Goya, spokeswoman for Hawaii's public schools.

School officials here are hoping that they will be able to finish out the academic year without disruption. At Saint Francis School, attendance has been normal, and students have been vigilant about personal cleanliness, according to Sister Joan of Arc Souza, head of school.

“;We've sent home a couple of students who have looked a little sick or had a little fever, but so far they've all been clear,”; she said.

Souza said that with graduation coming up, she was glad to get the revised federal guidelines.

“;Now we don't have to close if we only have a handful of cases,”; she said.

'Iolani School is also following the CDC's advice.

“;We're asking parents to remind their children to wash their hands frequently, cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough, or to stay home if they're feeling sick,”; said spokeswoman Cathy Lee Chong.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.




Fight the flu

        » Wash hands often.

» Sneeze or cough into tissues or into a sleeve or elbow.


» Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.


» Isolate yourself when you have symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills or fatigue.


» Stay home for seven days after symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer.


» Questions? Call (866) 767-5044, ext. 3, or visit www.cdc.gov/swineflu or www.hawaii.gov/health.