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Schools prepare for H1N1 possibilities

With school in full swing, officials in New Richmond are making sure kids are safe and healthy -- that means washing hands regularly and avoiding personal spaces.

Health officials are preparing for the worst when it comes to swine flu this fall, but that doesn't mean they're expecting the worst.

"We don't know what's going to happen," said Laurie Diaby, public information officer for St. Croix County Public Health.

To help keep New Richmond kids healthy, the New Richmond School District has developed a "pandemic influenza action plan," which was distributed to all staff.

The plan outlines what should be done to help isolate the H1N1 strain of swine flu cases, including hand washing and disinfecting with alcohol-based sanitizers. It also calls for a no handshaking policy and social distancing (or keeping students as far apart as practical), said Joan Simpson, New Richmond School District supervisor of health services.

The school district isn't joking around when it comes to H1N1. The new action plan requires anyone with flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, body aches or sore throat) to be sent home and not allowed to return to school until they are screened through a clinic.

Other guidelines include:

• Practice and instruct on proper covering of nose and mouth with a tissue for a sneeze or cough, or into sleeve if tissue is not available (hand wash after).

• Disinfect your work area as usual, and as needed throughout the workday (if a student is coughing, sneezing or goes home ill from class).

The district's health services department also met Wednesday, Aug. 26, to discuss H1N1, learn ways to identify the virus, steps to take to minimize the transmission and go over the current guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Department of Education.

St. Croix County Public Health is also launching a resource center on its Web site for local residents. The center will allow access to information regarding seasonal flu, H1N1 and other news and guidance through the flu season.

"We're preparing for three possible scenarios," Diaby said.

1. H1N1 goes away and doesn't come back.

2. H1N1 stays and becomes seasonal, like the common flu.

3. H1N1 circulates and changes in severity.

"We're preparing for the worst right now," Diaby said. That's not because he worst is expected, but because it's best to be prepared.

Voluntary seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccinations will be available shortly and will likely require two shots, Diaby said.

"We're expecting our first batch in mid-October," she said of the H1N1 vaccination.

Initial vaccinations will be available to those most at risk. Those include:

• All pregnant women

• Health care and emergency services personnel

• All people 6 months through 24 years of age

• People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months

• People aged 25 through 64 years who have underlying conditions (i.e. asthma)

"Community intervention is critical," Diaby said.

Observing and practicing standard precautions:

• Cover your cough and sneeze with arm or sleeve

• Stay home if you are sick (24 hours fever free before return)

• Wash hands often with soap and water

• Don't share drinking cups and straws

• Plenty of sleep and eat well

• Frequently clean commonly touched surfaces

"The combination of vaccinations and standard precautions can reduce or slow down the peak of illness and reduce the impact on our health care infrastructure," Diaby said. "We don't want everyone sick at once."

When vaccinations become available, they'll be distributed through normal distribution centers.

That means H1N1 vaccines will be available in the same places people get seasonal flu vaccinations, Diaby said. The vaccinations themselves are free, but individual clinics might charge a fee for administering the vaccination.

"This is the first pandemic we've had in 45 years," Diaby said. "We want people to be motivated, but not frantic; informed, but not overwhelmed; and prepared, but not panicked."

As of Aug. 22, St. Croix had 17 confirmed cases of H1N1, that's compared to 4,465 confirmed cases in the state. Milwaukee County is leading the state with 2,596 confirmed cases -- more than half of the state total.

H1N1 symptoms are similar to seasonal flu symptoms, Diaby said.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, those symptoms include:

• Fever (usually high)

• Headache

• Extreme tiredness

• Dry cough

• Sore throat

• Runny or stuffy nose

• Muscle aches

• Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults

Parents with questions regarding their school-aged kids can direct questions to building principals and school health services, Simpson said.

Other residents can call their clinic or St. Croix Public Health at 715-246-8263, Diaby said.

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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