Schools prepare to battle swine flu

Published 9:54 am Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Swine flu: it’s still out there, and still expected to strike many Alabamians this fall and winter. However, unlike other strains of the virus, the swine flu (H1N1 virus) seems to primarily target younger people.

“This strain of flu is different, in that it strikes mainly those 24 years and younger,” said Ziba Anderson of the Butler County Health Department.

Vaccinations for the swine flu are not expected to arrive in the county until November or December, so the local health department is just in the preparation stage, Anderson said. Youngsters will be the first priority, followed by pregnant women, adult daycare workers, health care workers and adults 25 to 64 years of age.

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“With this hitting so many children, we are encouraging everyone in our educational system to be very cautious. Good hygiene steps will help in combating this more than anything,” Anderson said.

Butler County School superintendent Mike Looney said he had met with principals concerning proactive measures to battle the virus.

“We’ve sent out informational letters to all our parents about taking precautionary measures,” Looney said. “We are also washing down all our bus seats with a mild Clorox-and-water solution daily, and making sure our students practice good hygiene at school on a regular basis, such as frequent hand-washing and use of anti-bacterial products.”

According to Looney, three children in the system have been diagnosed with swine flu this school year, and are currently recovering at home.

“We certainly don’t want to hit the panic button. Thank goodness this has not been as serious, as deadly, as the regular flu has been. We are doing the best we can to stay on top of the situation,” Looney said.

At Fort Dale Academy, which opens Thursday, headmaster David Brantley says emphasis on good hygiene practices will be paramount.

“There will be plenty of hand-washing and use of hand sanitizers by our students, and encouragement to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing,” Brantley said.

“The bathrooms will be scrupulously maintained as a preventative measure. We will also constantly talk to the younger students about maintaining good hygiene. We have always encouraged such practices, but we’ll definitely be stepping up our normal precautionary measures.”

Anderson says implementing such pro-active measures should greatly cut down on the number of cases in the county.

“And if a child does become ill, please, parents, keep them at home until they are non-contagious,” he said.

Anderson also wants to remind everyone flu shots for the regular strain of flu will still be needed by those most likely to be affected by it: the elderly, those with chronic health issues and health care workers.

According to the State Department of Public Health, 1,000 to 3,000 Alabamians are expected to die from swine flue this season.