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StarBulletin.com

School swine flu fear fades


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POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2009

Children, parents and teachers welcomed the first day of school at Anuenue without any apprehension despite a swine flu outbreak that hit the Hawaiian-language immersion school in May.

Yesterday marked the first day of school for Anuenue and most other public schools around the state.

“;The swine flu is everywhere now, so I don't think it's a bigger risk here than anywhere else,”; said Leilani Kamalani, the school's Title I coordinator. Kamalani said the school installed automatic paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms to assist with sanitation.

“;When you walk past the bathroom, you can smell it was cleaned,”; said Lori Kamealoha, whose 7-year-old and 13-year-old granddaughters attend Anuenue, in Palolo Valley. The classrooms were also sanitized in June by Chemstructions Systems Hawaii.

“;I think the school held out really well. The school did what they really needed to do,”; Kamealoha said.

There were 11 confirmed cases of swine flu at Anuenue before the school year ended in June, according to Principal Charles Naumu. Several public schools reported swine flue cases, but none had more than Anuenue. Mililani Middle School was the next closest with four cases.

Naumu said he was looking forward to the new school year with a clean start. During a faculty meeting Wednesday, teachers were educated on sanitation guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and received a flu update.

“;I was half expecting enrollment to drop because of (the outbreak), but there was an increase,”; Naumu said, adding that Anuenue now serves 370 students in grades K-12, compared with 360 last school year.

Caprice Souza said she had “;no worries”; about her 7-year-old daughter attending class at Anuenue, although she did give her little bottles of hand sanitizer and hand wipes. Souza added that the staff did a good job of keeping the parents informed when the school first reported cases of the contagious virus.

During that period Leiahi Peralta had her granddaughter stay home for several days, but with the start of a new school year, she said she is not as worried about it.

“;I'm OK with it. As long as they are taking precautions at the school, I'm OK about it,”; said Peralta.

Teachers like Lanakila Makua took extra precautions wiping down desks and bringing hand sanitizers to class.

“;As long as you be clean, wash your hands, you should be all right,”; said Makua, who has two sons attending the school.

The Health Department is advising people who are sick to stay home from school, whether they have seasonal or swine flu, known as H1N1 influenza A. People with underlying conditions, such as asthma or obesity, have to take extra precautions if they are feeling sick, Okubo said.

“;It would be helpful if parents keep their children home from school if they are running a fever or have symptoms of an influenzalike illness,”; said Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

In response to swine flu, health officials have been meeting with the Department of Education to anticipate the upcoming flu season, Okubo said.

The Health Department will offer free seasonal flu vaccinations to participating public and private schools if children have a completed consent form signed by their parent or guardian. The Stop Flu at School program will start issuing forms in mid-to late August, and clinics will start in October.