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Sandy Garrett's Column for Sept. 7

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With classrooms now full across our state, boys and girls want to know how long until recess, not how to prevent the flu.
However, with the return of students for the fall semester, health officials are expecting cases of H1N1, also referred to as the “swine flu,” to increase. Unfortunately, many cases have already been confirmed in universities and schools in this state, and many more are likely as flu season approaches.
While the normal flu season in Oklahoma is trouble enough from November through March, cases of the flu were reported during the spring and summer this year. The regular seasonal flu vaccine will be available this month, but is not expected to protect against the H1N1 flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The H1N1 vaccine could be available sometime in late fall.
Health officials still advise that the best way to prevent the spread of any illness is to:
• Wash hands often with soap and water
• Cover coughs and sneezes
• If possible avoid close contact with someone who is ill
Anyone with a flu-like illness and running a fever of 100 degrees or more is advised to stay at home until they are symptom-free and have had no fever without the use of medication for 24 hours.
Also, there are people who are more at-risk of 2009 H1N1 complications, including those who are pregnant, have asthma or diabetes, have compromised immune systems or have neuromuscular diseases, such as cerebral palsy or Down’s Syndrome. Parents of high risk children should consult their pediatricians to discuss what actions they should take if an outbreak of flu or H1N1 occurs at their children’s schools.
The State Department of Education continues to work with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the lead state agency on this issue, to help guide schools in case of outbreaks. We have been advised by state and federal health authorities that school closure for H1N1 will likely be a rare occurrence. With what we know about the virus now, only if an outbreak increases to an extreme level and the disruption to learning is great will health authorities recommend to school administrators that they temporarily close schools.
We have asked Oklahoma public school leaders to work closely with their county health departments in an effort to prepare and prevent. A letter detailing our guidance to schools can be found on the State Department of Education’s Web site, . The site also provides direct links to other resources found on the State Department of Health’s Web site, , and to , the federal government’s multi-agency Web site regarding H1N1.
Many school districts are training personnel to look for specific symptoms and how to monitor for illnesses. And, school leaders have been asked to set up plans to ensure that ill students will not fall behind because of missing classes. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses should be exchanged between parents and teachers, and school Web sites could perhaps be used to post assignments.
With increased awareness of this flu and the use of common-sense prevention steps, hopefully together we can help keep students healthy and in school!

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