HISD releases new swine flu policy

August 5, 2009 4:34:05 PM PDT
Some things are expected to be different this year when kids return to school late this month for the new school year. Travis Elementary in The Heights was the site of the nation's second-largest swine flu outbreak earlier this year. It was one of a handful of schools in our area completely shut down, but don't expect that to happen again this year.

Government health officials are expected to relax their recommendations to schools on closing at the first sign of swine flu, but those guidelines aren't out yet. Until then, local schools have had to make their own plans and the big question parents have is: Will schools close again at the first sign of swine flu?

Schools are two weeks away from opening and the first thing you'll notice is the hand sanitizers. HISD has been putting hand sanitizers like this one in every classroom and high traffic areas like hallways. Classes are disinfected once a week, but we're told it will be daily if the swine flu virus infects a child or adult at a school.

This past spring, six Houston schools were closed because of swine flu. Will that happen again this year?

"All of our evidence and talks with the local health dept says no. Because more is known about swine flu this year than last year. So they're taking it on a case-by-case basis," said Evelyn Henry, HISD Director Health & Medical Services.

The Centers for Disease Control or the Health Department could change the recommendations to schools, but at this time HISD plans to handle swine flu cases much like the seasonal flu when schools are not closed even when up to 10% of kids are absent during an outbreak. That, too, could change if swine flu is more virulent this fall than it was in the last spring.

"If this is going to be virulent flu making people really, really sick in large numbers, at this point no set number as to how many cases before a school is closed," said Henry.

HISD will send parents a letter and possibly automated phone calls to let them know if there is a swine flu case in a school. That's so they can watch their children for symptoms. There are some 300 nurses, one in almost every school, who will also pull children out of class if they show symptoms.

As a reminder, the symptoms of swine flu include fever above 100 degrees, headaches, body aches, sore throat, chills, and sometimes diarrhea.

Kids seem to be getting the message. Many came to school with their own sanitizers and tissue. Instead of coughing and sneezing in their hands, they are sneezing into their shoulder.

The experts say swine flu may be two or three times more infectious. It tends to hit young, healthy people the hardest. The good news is that the swine flu virus does not appear to be more lethal than seasonal flu at this time. The CDC reports more than 350 deaths and 5,500 hospitalized cases of H1N1. The CDC has stopped reporting individual confirmed and probable cases of infection. The Texas Department of State Health Services is now following the same procedures.

Human trials are underway right now for a swine flu vaccine. The vaccine is expected to be available in mid-October. Remember, the seasonal flu vaccine doesn't protect against the H1N1 flu. Last month, a federal advisory panel released guidelines on who should be first in line for the new vaccine. Pregnant women and health care workers top the list. People who care for infants, children from six months to age 18, college students, and people with health problems are also considered priorities.

Read all of the HISD documents on the swine flu outbreak earlier this year:

Full report on Travis Elementary outbreak

Summary or survey of Travis Elementary outbreak

Household survey results

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter.

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