Loudoun School Officials Prepare for Potential Swine Flu Outbreaks

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 3, 2009

With the school year beginning Tuesday, Loudoun County officials are preparing for potential outbreaks of swine flu.

School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III sent a letter to parents last month encouraging them to take steps to protect their children from the H1N1 flu strain. Cases of swine flu have been confirmed throughout Virginia.

"We expect this virus will continue to circulate in the fall and that clusters of illness will occur in schools involving students, faculty and staff," Hatrick wrote.

Hatrick said the school system will monitor the number of H1N1 and seasonal flu cases this fall. The school system will work closely with the county Health Department on preventing the viruses from spreading, he said.

David Goodfriend, Loudoun's health director, said flu cases are possible in schools "typically because people are in close contact and more likely to spread viruses."

"We don't know what the school year will bring," he said.

Goodfriend said that last year, schools began to make hand sanitizers available for students. "We do see viruses spread within schools, and this is one way to decrease transmission," he said.

Loudoun health officials reported the county's fist confirmed case of swine flu in May, when a male patient, younger than 18, contracted the disease. He recovered without the need for hospitalization.

The total number of swine flue cases in Loudoun is unclear. Goodfriend said that as the summer progressed, more doctors stopped testing patients for swine flu and began to treat them for seasonal flu.

"We don't have the exact numbers, because testing the people was reduced," he said. "The focus moved away from trying to count very case of H1N1 flu to approaching it as we do with seasonal flu."

Hatrick's letter encourages parents to protect their children from swine flu. His tips include teaching children to wash their hands frequently with soap and water and to use tissues when they sneeze or cough. He suggests that parents vaccinate their children for seasonal flu when the vaccine becomes available in the early fall.

No swine flu vaccine is available, but Hatrick wrote that parents should get their children vaccinated if the situation changes.

He asked parents to monitor themselves and their children for flulike symptoms and to stay home from work or school if they suspect they have the flu. Hatrick wrote that the school system "has students and staff in all of the schools who are at risk of complications from the seasonal influenza and H1N1 because of chronic illness."

Goodfriend encouraged parents to vaccinate their children against seasonal flu because they are at a higher risk of having complications from the virus.

"It is very important for parents to be aware and to make a decision of what they think is appropriate for children," he said.

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