By Kalen Ponche
Students across the county are getting remedial lessons in hand washing as school districts take precautions to prevent the spread of germs amid a global outbreak of swine flu.
“I think like a lot of districts we’re trying to be proactive,” said Matt Deichmann, spokesman for the Wentzville School District.
As of Monday there were 286 laboratory confirmed cases of swine flu and one death reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Missouri, there was one confirmed case of swine flu Sunday in Platte County, near Kansas City and two suspected cases in a family who had traveled to Mexico. There were no confirmed or suspected cases in St. Charles County, said Cameron Satterfield, spokesperson for the St. Charles County Department of Community Health and the Environment.
“It seems to be hitting kids 18 and under harder here in the U.S., so obviously we want to keep an eye on the schools because of that,” Satterfield said. Superintendents have taken steps to curb the spread of germs through increased cleaning and hand washing reminders.
Bright orange signs hanging on the walls of St. Charles West High School on Friday read, “Flu precaution: please wash your hands.”
School nurses and educators from the health department have been going into classrooms to give students lessons in hand washing techniques and the safer ways to cough (cover your mouth) and to sneeze (into a tissue).
Francis Howell School District sent letters home to parents asking them to keep sick students home from school until they have been free of fever for 24 hours. The 24-hour guideline is typical for schools, but the district is making certain parents know about it.
“We’re encouraging people, if they don’t feel well, to remember to stay home,” said Renee Schuster, superintendent of the Francis Howell School District.
Wentzville School District officials have asked vendors who make school deliveries to monitor their employees for signs of sickness. Even the classrooms in the Fort Zumwalt schools are getting an extra scrubbing at night, said Superintendent Bernard DuBray.
“We also have hand sanitizer in every classroom,” DuBray said.
School nurses are following up with children who are sent home sick with flu-like symptoms. Those parents are encouraged to take their children to doctors.
Satterfield said more cases of the flu had been reported in recent days to the health department. He said local health care agencies are able to run tests to determine whether a person has a strain of the flu that is recognized.
If a child or staff member has a suspected case of swine flu, superintendents said, they will follow guidance from the local health department in regard to school closures.
The CDC has recommended a school close if there is a confirmed case of swine flu. Districtwide school closures are recommended if more than one school has more than one confirmed case among faculty or students.
The CDC also recommends schools and childcare facilities in unaffected areas prepare for the possibility of caring for children who are dismissed from school.
Preparing for swine flu
• Local health care providers can test to determine whether a person has the same kind of flu as the swine flu. From there, more specific tests can be conducted to see if swine flu is present.
• The St. Charles County Department of Community Health has received shipments of Tamiflu and Relenza, the two medications that treat swine flu. They were being distributed to area health care agencies and pharmacies.
• As of Friday, the department had received 25 percent of the medication allotted for the county.
• For more information from the St. Charles County Department of Community Health, visit www.scchealth.org/swineflu/
• Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site for more information on the latest cases in the United States at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/
• The World Health Organization is tracking cases worldwide at http://www.who.int.