Since school began three weeks ago, teachers and parents have been on high alert about the possibility of an H1N1, or swine flu, outbreak.
Sharing books and desks in crowded schools is the perfect breeding ground for a new strain of flu virus. And while health officials continue to label H1N1 a pandemic situation, local school officials say preventative measures are working to keep attendance stable.
"I'm grateful. I think we, as principals, believed that, gee whiz, we're going to see this flu cropping up in large numbers," said Brown-Barge Middle School
Principal Patricia Kerrigan. "But so far, the vast majority of kids are healthy here and there has not been an increase in absenteeism." Kerrigan said her school has had only one suspected incident of swine flu this year. She said handfuls of students have reported flu-like illness and symptoms
and were sent home as a precaution.
School districts and county health departments no longer count cases of H1N1, so information gathered by schools and health officials is largely anecdotal. Karen Thoennes, health coordinator for Escambia schools
, said since school started there have been about 170 students in the district who reported flu-like illness
. She said there has not been "clustering" of sick students at one location that would indicate an outbreak. "It's early for the flu season," she said. "But that's out of 40,000 students. So it's still certainly small numbers."
Statewide there have been about 3,000 confirmed cases of swine flu, however only people who are hospitalized are tested. Dr. John Lanza, Escambia County Health Department director, said only about 5 percent of people who have the flu are hospitalized. "For every case that is confirmed, there are 20 cases that are not confirmed
," Lanza said. "There are probably hundreds of thousands of cases in Florida
." He also said there's more than an 80 percent chance that people who are currently experiencing flu-like illness have swine flu.
He said there is a "significant increase in flu activity" compared to this time last year
"A year ago, we had little to no cases of influenza this time of year," Lanza said. "Statewide, about 3 percent of visits to the emergency departments are for influenza now." While 3 percent may sound low, Lanza said that number represents a much higher frequency considering that most people don't visit the doctor for flu. Officials in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties said they have been fielding more parent inquiries about swine flu. "The best thing we can do is be calm," Thoennes said. "We know that the flu spreads easily, any kind, but just treat it like you would the regular flu." Schools have been stocked with hand sanitizers and disinfectants. School workers are wiping down desks and doorknobs more frequently and reminding children of good hygiene practices. "I think it's been over sensationalized a bit," said Deanna Huggins, a mother of two. "Washing hands and getting flu shots, we already do those things." Bridgette Williams, a mother of four and self-described "germaphobe," said she thinks communication has been a helpful piece of prevention. "It's makes parents more aware to just be cautious," Williams said. "I always remind my children to have good hygiene, so we're not going to panic."http://www.pnj.com/article/20090913/NEW ... 006/NEWS01