Thu, Jan. 23

Schools prepare for swine flu

COTTONWOOD - Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is going on offense to defend against an outbreak of swine flu. Superintendent Barbara U'Ren and district head nurse Deborah Randall are taking steps to avoid an outbreak altogether, or at least to minimize the impact if one hits.

One of the first steps was for Randall to prepare a Swine-Flu Alert letter to be sent home with students. The main objective is to stop an outbreak of swine flu before it begins. But the same safeguards against getting sick or spreading swine flu also work for other illnesses, such as colds or seasonal flu.

The three most important of those safeguards are hand washing, staying home when sick and coughing etiquette.

"Hand washing!" Randall says emphatically is one of the best protections against either catching the flu or spreading it. She recommends that people wash their hands often and also wash their children's hands.

Avoiding close contact with people who are ill, or if you are ill, helps stop the spread of disease. "If you're sick, stay home," she urges.

Coughing etiquette includes covering your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing. If you do not have a handkerchief or tissue handy, cough or sneeze into your own shoulder or the inside of your elbow. If you cover your mouth and nose with your hands, immediately wash your hands thoroughly.

U'Ren says that in school environments it is vitally important that sick children and staff stay home when sick, until no longer contagious. "They say to stay home 24 hours after the fever breaks," she said.

Randall pointed out that "after the fever breaks" does not mean while the fever is lowered or controlled with medication, such as ibuprofen (used in Advil, Motrin, Nuprin and many other brand name and generic pain medications).

Another step is gaining the help and expertise of county, state and national health-care officials. U'Ren has been in contact with Robert Resendes, director of Yavapai County Community Health Services. Resendes, in turn, is in contact with state health officials and the Center for Disease Control.

Once an outbreak occurs, steps recommended by public health officials include implementing active flu symptom screening of students and staff as they arrive at school. Another step is to increase space between people by moving desks farther apart. Dismissal of sick students from school for at lease seven days is one more recommended step.

U'Ren said that area superintendents will ask Resendes for help in designing a plan so that "all districts in the Verde Valley have the same information."

She said there needs to be a step-by-step guideline for superintendents to follow for serious outbreaks. If a superintendent has to make a decision whether to close a school or a district, it will help to have all superintendents aware of the same information and options.

U'Ren said superintendents will look to the county for direction if a lot of illnesses are reported.

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