Southern Md. Hospitals, Schools Work to Ward Off Swine Flu

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009

Schools and hospitals in Southern Maryland have reported several cases of swine flu, and health and school officials are continuing to battle the virus.

Visiting hours and regulations at Civista Medical Center in La Plata and Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick have been altered to help prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus. School officials are reminding students to cover their coughs and sneezes and wash their hands, and classrooms are being cleaned with hospital-quality disinfectants.

People who have flulike symptoms probably have the H1N1 strain, said William Leebel, a spokesman for the Charles County Health Department. The seasonal influenza usually hits during the winter holidays and in January, he said.

"We see an increased number daily that are coming in," Leebel said. "It is nothing staggering, but . . . we should be seeing a very sharp upswing soon," when people begin to spend more time indoors.

As of Oct. 6, Charles had recorded 42 cases of H1N1. Ten people were hospitalized in those cases, Leebel said.

David L. Rogers, Calvert County's health officer, said he wasn't sure whether cases would spike this winter.

"I think flu is very, very unpredictable," he said. "All we know is that it tends to occur in the winter. If it will occur a lot or a little bit is anyone's guess."

Calvert has had 28 confirmed cases since the spring, when testing began. Two people required hospitalization. So far, the county's hospital and emergency care centers have not been stressed, Rogers said.

Students who have flulike symptoms are being sent home by school nurses, said Katie O'Malley-Simpson, a spokeswoman for Charles schools. She said absenteeism has fluctuated at several campuses, including La Plata and Thomas Stone high schools.

On Monday, William A. Diggs and Dr. James Craik elementary schools and Benjamin Stoddert Middle School each sent home five or more students with flulike symptoms.

No Calvert schools have sent five or more students home with flulike symptoms in one day, said Kim Roof, the county's director of student services. Roof said that daily attendance is monitored and that some schools "have been close or hovering" near high absenteeism levels, but none that have raised alarms.

In addition to monitoring attendance, Calvert has been making sure parents and students know how to try to prevent spreading the flu.

"We're trying to do all the right things to keep it out there and in the forefront to let people know what is going on," Roof said.

St. Mary's County schools report similar issues. The absentee rates have been similar but haven't triggered any unusual worries, said Patricia Wince, the county's health supervisor.

"We have had a handful of schools where we have sent five children home in a day," she said. Those students tend to return in two or three days, she said. Wince said that students who have been ill should return to school only after being fever- and medicine-free for 24 hours.

Southern Maryland's three county health departments and school systems are planning to host flu clinics for residents and students. For information, contact your local health department or the appropriate school.

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