H1N1 cases spreading, numbers not reported by ADPH

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If you visited the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Web site today and found that Crenshaw County had only one confirmed case of novel H1N1 (swine flu) influenza virus, the number would be completely misleading.

As of July 23, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control as well as the ADPH have discontinued counting cases for public reporting, according to Bradley Cooper with the ADPH.

“We’re not testing everyone with these symptoms we’re seeing now because it’s here and testing is not necessary anymore,” Cooper said. “We know that if someone has flu-like symptoms now, it’s more than likely H1N1.”

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Alabama has had sporadic activity of H1N1, but the absenteeism in the workplace and in school settings could reach as high as 40 percent once you include those who are ill as well as the caregivers who are staying home, Cooper said.

“The main thing to remember is if you are sick, stay home and don’t get around others who are sick,” Cooper said. “Students should stay home for at least 24 hours without fever or medication for fever before they return to school.”

Cooper said there is a lot of misleading information out about H1N1.

“This is not a time to panic, but we must be prepared and take preventive measures,” he said. “Just because a person is coughing, it doesn’t mean it’s H1N1—use disinfectant on door knobs, door handles, phones—even be aware of touching things like grocery store buggy handles—cleanliness is the only way to protect ourselves.”

Vaccinations for the H1N1 virus should be available in Alabama in mid-October with 600,000 doses being brought in initially. The state will then receive approximately 300,000 doses every other week after that with doses being given on a priority basis, starting with pregnant women and school-age children.

Crenshaw County Schools Superintendent Kathi Wallace said that the system had seen a rise in the number of absences recently due to the H1N1 virus, but the attendance rate overall was still good.

“Brantley has a 98.2 percent attendance rate since school began, and Highland Home’s is 96.6 percent,” Wallace said. “Luverne School’s attendance rate since the beginning of the school year is at 97 percent.”

Luverne School had 128 students absent on Monday, but only 86 were out Wednesday, according to Alfredia Griffin Johnson, Curriculum and Instruction Director. Brantley School had 54 students absent on Monday, but only 40 on Wednesday.

She also stressed the fact that these numbers included students who were out for reasons other than the H1N1 virus.

“We don’t want our parents to panic,” Johnson said. “The teachers are wiping down and spraying everything—the principals are working with the teachers, and the teachers are working with the children about cleanliness and washing their hands.”

Johnson said that Butch Norman, maintenance supervisor for the system, is keeping paper towels and soap in all school bathrooms, and parents have been donating items as well.

“We plan to have information available for parents at the next PTA at each local school,” Wallace said. “We are telling both students and staff who are sick to stay at home. Our school nurses are doing a great job with following all guidelines sent down from the State Department of Education and the ADPH.”

Wallace said the system would be “tweaking” its Pandemic Flu Plan and they will put it on the school system’s Web site as soon as the School Board has a chance to view it at the Sept. 10th meeting.

“We are planning our KidChecks (health fairs) this year in the fall of the year instead of the spring,” Wallace added. “We are hoping to be able to offer vaccinations if they are available at that time. We have been told this might be a possibility in October, but we are waiting for guidance from the SDE and ADPH at this time.”

Angela Carpenter, head administrator at Crenshaw Christian Academy, said the absences were few at CCA.

“We haven’t seen anything really until this past Monday,” she said. “We’ve had about 12 to 15 out—it’s more in the junior high school age group that I’m seeing, which really surprised me. I think some of mine are just due to regular colds, too, but some of them are waiting for confirmation to see if it’s H1N1 or not.”

HHS Principal Joseph Eiland said that Highland Home had eight confirmed cases of H1N1 last week.

“We had 74 students absent on Aug. 18, but the numbers got better the rest of the week,” Eiland said. “I think a lot of those absences are due to fear.”

Eiland said employees at the school were “bathing it down in Clorox every day,” and that churches and others in the community had been sending Clorox wipes and Lysol to the school.

“Our Jr. Beta Honor Society even took money out of their account and purchased wipes for the school,” he said.

“I’ve heard doctors saying this is the best flu to have because you have it for about 3-4 days, and then it’s done.”