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Four Schools Report Cases Of H1N1 Flu

Four cases of H1N1 flu have been reported in four different Halifax County schools in the last week, but none has been confirmed, according to Deputy School Superintendent Larry Clark.

Clark said South Boston Elementary, Sinai Elementary, Meadville Elementary and Cluster Springs Early Learning Center have each reported a case of a student or staff member having flu-like symptoms.

“We knew it was coming,” he said, adding that the school system has been cooperating with the Virginia Department of Health to have students and staffs vaccinated for free when the vaccine becomes available.

“We are working secondary to the Virginia Department of Health and will be assisting with the vaccinations in the schools,” Clark said.

The schedule for the vaccinations is pending arrival of the vaccine, he added.

Virginia health officials said last week that the state’s first shipment of vaccine for the novel H1N1 flu virus should start arriving sometime next week.

The state expects to receive an initial shipment of 43,500 vaccine doses to combat the virus, said Karen Remley, Virginia’s health commissioner.

Remley said all of the initial 43,500 doses of the vaccine will be in the form of a nasal mist: 30,200 of them will be distributed to hospitals across Virginia, while the remaining 13,300 will be sent to local health departments.

She said the state’s first priorities will be vaccinating health-care workers and children, two of the groups considered most at-risk for the novel H1NI virus. As more shipments arrive in future weeks, including the doses that can be injected, Virginia would intensify its effort to vaccinate pregnant women, another high-risk group, against the virus, Remley said.

When used as a nasal mist, the novel H1N1 flu vaccine contains a small but extremely weak form of the virus. Because of that, medical officials say pregnant women should not receive the vaccine by nasal mist.

“By mid-November, every Virginian should have the opportunity to be vaccinated,” Remley said.

In the meantime, Clark said District Health Director Dr. Charles Devine III and School Superintendent Paul Stapleton have drafted a letter that will be sent home to parents of students.

Clark said the following letter will only go home to parents and guardians “one time” when a case is reported at an individual school and will not be sent each time a suspected case is reported.

The letter from Dr. Devine and Superintendent Stapleton states:

“2009 H1N1 Influenza is the dominant strain of influenza circulating at this time, so we assume that students/employees currently absent from
___________________________ school due to flu-like symptoms are likely to have the novel 2009 H1N1 strain.

“The Health Department and Halifax County Schools are working together to facilitate vaccination once the new vaccine arrives. School staff continues to aggressively clean contact surfaces in the schools. However, we continue to ask that students and staff not come to school if they are ill.

“We anticipate that many of the students and staff will be affected with flu-like symptoms this fall and winter. Since it is now prevalent in the community, we believe parents are quite aware of the situation. For that reason, we do not anticipate sending letters home every time we have an absence that may be related to influenza.

“We want to keep the school open to students and function in a normal manner during this flu season. But, we need your help to do this; here are a few things you can do:

• “Get vaccinated. The best way to protect against the flu – seasonal or H1N1 – is to get vaccinated. A vaccine is available this year, as it is each year, to protect against seasonal influenza. Vaccine to protect against the novel H1N1 flu virus is currently in production, and initial doses are expected to become available later in the fall.

• “Teach your children to wash their hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. You can set a good example by doing this yourself.
• “Teach your children not to share personal items like drinks, food or unwashed utensils, and to cover their coughs and sneezes with tissues, covering up their coughs and sneezes using the elbow, arm or sleeve instead of the hand when a tissue is unavailable.

•  “Know the signs and symptoms of the flu. Symptoms of the flu include fever (100 degrees F or greater), cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache and feeling very tired. Some people may also vomit or have diarrhea.

• “Do not send children to school if they are sick. All children who are determined to be sick while at school will be sent home.

•  “Keep your children at home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or do not have signs of fever, without using fever-reducing drugs. Keeping children with a fever at home will reduce the number of people who may get infected.

“We recommend that you make plans now for child care at home if your child becomes ill. For information on how to care for a sick person at home and for other questions about flu, contact your health care provider, local health department, visit these Web sites: www.flu.gov; www.vdh.virginia.gov; or call 1-877-ASK-VDH3 (1-877-275-8343).”