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MISD prepares for swine flu

With swine flu alerts and reports of outbreaks making headlines, the Mercer Island School District is taking extra precautions. Superintendent Gary Plano sent a letter home with all students on Sept. 8, providing a thorough list of H1N1 preventive measures.

The letter includes a list of ways to keep students from contracting the flu, provided by the Washington State Department of Health. The list ranges from simple instructions on maintaining good hygiene — “encourage students to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze” — to planning for child care if a son or daughter needs to stay home; “be prepared for sick students or staff to stay home for at least seven days.”

According to Shelly Sage, lead nurse on the MISD pandemic flu team, the district is urging parents to keep their children home if they come down with signs of sickness.

“They should be home for 24 hours, until after their fever goes down without the use of Ibuprofen or Tylenol. This applies to staff and children,” she said.

District nurses have been working closely with the state Department of Health to recognize the signs of H1N1 flu. In August, Sage participated in an interactive video conference with the Department of Health on the subject. She said that all MISD nurses were prepared for the case of an outbreak. So far, there have been no reported cases of H1N1 among MISD students, who returned to school on Sept. 2.

Yet news headlines have been foreboding. Approximately 2,000 Washington State University students and residents of Pullman have fallen ill with swine flu in the past two weeks. Test results show that the first several dozen cases are H1N1 positive, and specialists have assumed that the vast majority of sick students are carrying the same strain. Public health officials warn that similar outbreaks could easily occur elsewhere in Washington.

Despite this news, Sage said that Island parents should not panic. Most of the cases at WSU, after all, were mild, with only two reported hospitalizations. Typical symptoms of swine flu include a sudden fever (100.4 F), a sudden cough, headache, chills, fatigue and other basic flu symptoms.

Rather than worry, Sage hopes that parents will “be prepared.” She recommended that parents update their emergency contact forms, think of options for getting missed schoolwork done at home and watch carefully for signs of illness. If parents have specific questions about H1N1, she encourages them to contact their family doctor or school nurse.

Resources on flu prevention are available on the district’s Web site, www.misd.k12.wa.us, along with the Washington State Department of Health Web site, www.doh.wa.gov.

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