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Schools take steps to prevent spread of swine flu

St. Francois County area schools are prepared to serve as vaccination centers for swine flu if asked and have already begun taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the disease as students head back to school.

The county has had one confirmed case of the H1N1 virus, and there are likely more cases than that, health department officials say. People often do not go to the doctor for the flu and that type of flu isn’t being routinely tested for.

Farmington Superintendent Jerry Watson said their district had already added hand sanitizers in the cafeterias, restrooms and hallways when antibiotic resistant staph infections became an issue in 2007. Those are still in place and the students have all been encouraged to be extra diligent about hand washing before meals and after using the restroom.

The district has also always wiped down door knobs, light switches and other hot spots once a day, but will do so additional times during the day, Watson said.

“I anticipate possible immunizations being given at the school,” Watson said, indicating he is favorable to the idea. “One thing we have to realize for schools is we are dealing with the part of the population Swine Flu seems to be attacking. And one of the standards we are trying to get has to do with attendance. Kids cannot be here and educated if they are sick.”

A letter is going out to parents with CDC recommendations for preventing the spread of the disease and Watson said they would follow any additional recommendations made by the St. Francois County Health Department.

Most school district officials said they planned similar steps.

At Bismarck, the district has already implemented a pandemic flu plan and the school nurse is logging any cases of flu that occur. Additional wipe-downs, hand sanitizers, and reminders about proper hygiene are among steps included in that.

“We’ll be extra cautious this year, of course,” said Nurse Pam Morris. She plans to attend a meeting of county school nurses Aug. 27 to discuss the situation further. She said a letter to parents would likely go out after that meeting.

“We don’t want to overreact,” said Stacy Stevens, West County superintendent. “Normal flu has been more deadly than swine flu. We don’t want parents so scared they won’t send their kids to school even if they are healthy. But we want to be careful, educate parents and kids.”

They have sent letters out to parents asking them to remind their children of proper hygiene. They will also be asking parents to pick up any children with fevers more than 100 degrees.

Stevens said they are also amenable to having a swine flu clinic once the vaccine is available. Federal health officials have said they would begin shipping the vaccine sometime in mid-October.

Jane Howard with the St. Francois County Health Department said they do not know exactly when the swine flu vaccine will begin to arrive. “It could be mid-October or it could be December,” she said.

There will likely not be enough H1N1 vaccine to treat the entire population. Priority will be given to pregnant women, children over 6 months of age and healthcare workers.

The vaccine will be targeted on the younger population, Howard said, since it seems to be more serious for that population. “The average age of infection appears to be 25,” Howard said, “and reactions among that population appear to be stronger than usual, which is what’s making it so deadly.”

She called it a cytokine storm. “The immune system goes into hypermode,” she explained. “It’s very aggressive, so much so, it can kill the host.”

The symptoms of swine flu are very similar to those of regular flu and include fever, coughing, sore throat, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue. They may also include vomiting and diarrhea. Those who have symptoms should stay away from gatherings where they could infect others.

The county has already had one case of swine flu verified in a 5-year-old. It is not known where he caught the virus. He is being kept at home and treated with Tamiflu. Health department officials said he is expected to make a full recovery.

There have been 158 confirmed cases of H1N1 in Missouri, with one death.

The regular flu season vaccine is still recommended for senior citizens, the chronically ill and infants and toddlers. The county will get about 1200 doses of that.

It is still strongly recommended that people get the regular season flu vaccine, Howard added, as that will likely circulate about the same time as the Swine Flu. The clinic is from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 4  at the Desloge First Baptist Church on N. Harding Street.

There will also be a drive-through clinic from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 10 at the St. Francois County Ambulance District building across from Mineral Area Regional Medical Center on Electric Drive in Farmington.

The suggested donation for the shot is $20, which can be billed to Medicaid or Medicare. A pneumonia shot is also available for $50, but a separate appointment should be made for it.

Renee Jean can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 117 or

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