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School principals, L.V. Stabler administrators, discuss swine flu

Butler County school principals met with administrators at L.V. Stabler Memorial Hospital on Wednesday to discuss precautionary measures school personnel should take as the swine flu continues to spread throughout the country.

On Thursday, two cases of “probable” swine flu in Madison County resulted in the closures of all school systems in the county, including Huntsville city schools.

Butler County has no reported cases, but health officials fear it’s only a matter of time since the virus – a new strain of influenza never before seen in humans – has spread rapidly since Saturday, infecting people in New York, California, Texas, and Ohio, among other states.

Bobby Ginn, CEO of L.V. Stabler Memorial, said presently swine flu appears to bring on illness similar to seasonal influenza. What makes swine flu problematic is that humans have no natural immunity to the disease, and there is no vaccination, he said.

Ginn said the good news is that people who have contracted the virus in the U.S. have all recovered, with the exception of a 23-month old infant in Texas who died on Tuesday after being brought over from Mexico.

“It’s not some terrible plague where we’re going to have to quarantine half of the city,” Ginn said.

Ginn said he felt some of the deaths reported in Mexico could have been because of malnourishment or dehydration, effects brought on by the virus, and because health personnel might not have known they were dealing with a new influenza strain.

He said most area physicians have influenza testing kits – which involves a nasal swab – in their offices to test patients.

Valerie Heath, who serves as infection control nurse at the hospital, said the local test can eliminate swine flu as the cause, but cannot validate it.

“What the doctor does is give the patient a nasal swab and drop this swab into a solution,” she explained. “Flu virus is either A or B. If it comes back B then it’s seasonal flu. If it’s A, then the specimen is forwarded to the clinical lab in Montgomery where it is tested for swine flu.”

Heath said Butler County is as prepared as anyone for the possibility of a pandemic. On Wednesday, officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the pandemic alert level to five, one step away from the declaration of a pandemic, characterized by outbreaks across the globe. Heath said Butler County has worked with the state for three years on the implementation of its pandemic plan, which identifies those individuals who would coordinate government, healthcare, education, and emergency reaction to a pandemic.

Ada Sue Thompson, lead nurse for the school district, encouraged principals to ensure teachers and students are following proper hygiene, such as hand washing, to prevent the spread of germs. School nurses are also monitoring students, she said.

“Our school nurses consistently in the classroom dealing with our children and are looking for any signs of influenza,” she said.

Thursday folders sent home with students carried a message from Superintendent Mike Looney notifying parents of the school district’s precautions in dealing with swine flu.