County health officials warn that swine flu could reach local schools

An estimated 2,000 Washington State University students have reported having flu-like symptoms, prompting concerns that the novel H1N1, or swine flu, virus may affect students in schools.

No WSU student required hospitalization, news sources reported. Various reports differed on how many of the flu cases were swine flu.

The San Juan County Health and Community Services Department warns that now that school has resumed, odds are good that if you have a school-age son or daughter, you may receive a call that you need to pick them up because they have a fever of more than 100F, a sore throat, headache and body aches.

Viral infections spread by coughs, and by touching objects like doorknobs and computer keyboards. The more closely grouped people are, the more likely the disease will spread and – in the review of H1N1 flu cases in Washington State, the age group most likely to be affected is people age 5-17, because young people have not developed an immunity to the virus.

Even in years without a “novel” virus, seasonal influenza causes about 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations nationwide. In Washington state, between April and July of this year, the H1N1 virus was blamed for 14 deaths and 154 hospitalizations. The most frequently affected were infants to 4-year-olds, followed by those age 5-17. Three-quarters of those hospitalized had some pre-existing condition such as asthma.

There is no indication that the H1N1 strain is more virulent than seasonal flu strains, but because a large population has no built up immunity, more people may be affected.

A swine flu vaccine will be available in early October and vaccine against the seasonal flu strain is available now. The initial priority groups for novel H1N1 vaccination are:

— 1. Pregnant women.

— 2. People who live with or provide care for infants younger than six months of age.

— 3.Health care and emergency medical service personnel who have direct contact with patients or infectious material.

— 4. Children six months through 4 years.

— 5. Children 5-18 who have chronic medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, that put them at higher risk for flu-related complications.

As more vaccine becomes available, the priority groups will be expanded to include anyone up to 24 years of age and people 25-64 who have medical conditions that place them at high risk, the county reported.

What to do
Use common sense and good hygiene to avoid contact with or spreading the disease, the county health department advises.

— Cover your cough.

— Wash your hands.

— Stay home if you are sick.

— Call your health care provider about obtaining antiviral medications if someone in your household who is exposed to influenza is pregnant or has diabetes or asthma.

— Don’t return to work or school until the fever is gone for 24 hours without any fever-reducing medications.

Seek emergency medical care if the sick person at home
— Has fast breathing or difficulty breathing.

— Has bluish or gray color around the lips or skin.

— Chest pain.

— Is vomiting and unable to keep liquids down.

— Is not drinking enough fluids, causing dizziness when standing, absence of urination, or in infants, a lack of tears when they cry.

— Has seizures.

— Is less responsive than normal or becomes confused.

— Is so irritable that the child does not want to be held.

— Has flu-like symptoms that improve and then return with a fever or worse cough.

The health department urges all San Juan County residents to make a plan for dealing with the need to stay home while you or a member of your family is sick. Pregnant women should talk with their doctor as soon as possible.

For more information, call the San Juan County Health and Community Services Department, 378-4474.

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