VERDE VALLEY - The outbreak of swine flu has everybody's attention, including local school officials. With more than 150 people in Mexico dead from this flu, and about 100 confirmed cases reported in at least six countries, including 50 in the United States, the potential for a pandemic is real. The scare is big.
The good news so far for local school districts is that no cases of swine flu have been reported in Arizona. Even so, school administrators aren't waiting for official instructions from health officials.
Donna Metzler, school nurse for the Camp Verde School District, circulated information Monday morning to the district's principals. Her memo stated that no new recommendations have been forthcoming regarding prevention of swine flu in schools.
Metzler stated that recommendations from the Communicable Disease Center and Yavapai County Health Services are the same as for prevention of regular flu. She told the principals that she is in touch with health officials because the situation with the outbreak is fluid and can change from day to day.
"We will also monitor the health of our students, as we always do," Metzler stated.
At Mingus Union High School District, Superintendent Tim Foist said there is no contingency plan in place yet regarding a possible closure of the school due to an outbreak.
"We are tracking our absentees," Foist said. "Our day-to-day absentees are normal."
Foist said that if there is a sudden spike in absenteeism, the school will take a closer look at the situation. "We're trying to stay up on it," he said.
In the meantime, like almost all school districts, MUHS is recommending attention to personal hygiene. "It's all about washing your hands," he said.
Kathleen Fleenor, superintendent at Clarkdale-Jerome School District, said the district has not received any warnings or advisories as of Tuesday morning.
"We will continue to use the same precautions we have done in the past, which includes stressing frequent hand washing and having desks, water fountains and bathrooms cleaned with an antiseptic daily," Fleenor said.
At Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, Superintendent Barbara U'Ren said the district hasn't received much information at this time.
"We will inform our parents as to the symptoms of swine flu and remind them to have their children take precautions, such as washing their hands," U'Ren said.
Tuesday morning, the World Health Organization raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 4. That alert level is characterized by confirmed person-to-person spread of a new influenza virus able to cause "community-level" outbreaks.
The CDC reports that a Phase 4 alert indicates the likelihood of a pandemic has increased.
On average, 36,000 people die in the United States each year from flu-related symptoms, according to the CDC. Although that number is significant, it is put in perspective when compared to the deaths associated with flu pandemics.
The "Hong Kong" flu pandemic killed an estimated 100 million people worldwide in 1968. But the worst of all flu pandemics was the so-called "Spanish Flu" in 1918. That pandemic killed as many as 100 million people.
Symptoms of swine flu, according to the CDC, are similar to those of the common flu - fever, sore throat, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some victims of swine flu have reported runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
The CDC recommends frequent hand washing as the best way to avoid catching swine flu from others. It is spread primarily by coughing or sneezing, but infected persons may leave active virus on telephones, keyboards and doorknobs.