Cleaning up in Huntsville

September 29, 2009 4:19:29 PM PDT
Students at Huntsville Independent School District are getting a midweek break, courtesy of the swine flu. District officials say nearly 15 percent of their entire student body called in sick on Monday, and they say they had to take action. [SWINE FLU: Symptoms, questions and answers and more]

Normally, Sam Wilson's two youngest children are in school on a weekday afternoon. Instead, they're happily playing at a Huntsville McDonalds, thanks to their school district's concerns over swine flu.

"It's almost like they waited for it to get too bad, but i can't criticize what I wasn't involved in," said Wilson.

When 885 Huntsville ISD students called in sick Monday, the district decided to take action, canceling school for 48 hours.

"We felt like the best thing to do to try to totally contain the disease was go ahead and close for a while, give the kids time to recover and stay away from each other so they are not re-infecting," said Huntsville ISD Assistant Superintendent John Debrock.

The problem started last week-when 15 percet of Huntsville's 6,300 students were sick with flu-like symptoms. Tests confirmed that in a large number of cases, the H1N1 virus was the source. Many other kids who became sick are considered "suspected" swine flu cases.

The district's medical advisor says it's too early to have this many cases of seasonal flu. And since the virus can live on surfaces like desks and keyboards for 8 to 12 hours, he advised the closure.

All eight of the district's schools underwent a deep cleaning Tuesday and the hope is that by leaving the schools empty for two days, the virus will die.

Liza Autry teaches German at Huntsville High School. She says she is not that worried for herself or her own children who attend Huntsville ISD schools.

"I keep hand sanitizer at my class at my door," said Autry. "We'll get through this."

But she also welcomes the break. So many of her fellow teachers were affected by the flu or had children who were, that covering the extra classrooms had become a big headache.

State health officials have set up a medical hotline for those looking for advice on dealing with the H1N1 flu. Just call 211 to be connected to medical professionals who can provide information about managing symptoms and advise you when you should seek more attention from a doctor or go to the emergency room. The line is open around the clock.

Flu on the rise in Texas

The flu is officially widespread in Texas. We're 1 of 26 states reporting widespread flu activity right now. The vast majority of the cases in Texas and the other states have confirmed to be H1N1 swine flu.

More and more people are going to the doctor feeling like they have the flu. The CDC reports visits to doctors have increased the last six weeks, something unusual for this time of year.

The Texas Health Department now classifies flu activity in Texas as widespread. That means there has been a significant increase in flu-like illnesses and confirmed lab reports show flu cases in at least half the state.

To give you an idea of how quickly this is spreading, two weeks ago, the problem was considered widespread in six states. Last week, in 22 states, and now 26 states have seen high-volume outbreaks, according to the CDC. The good news is vaccines should be available by early next week.

Originally vaccines weren't going to be made available until mid-October. Keep in mind, though, the first doses to be made available will be flu-mist, the sprays, not the shots. Federal health officials are urging pregnant women to be among the first in line for the vaccine.

The CDC says pregnant women are at least four times more likely to be hospitalized with the flu than the rest of us, and that pregnant women make up six percent of confirmed H1N1 deaths.

PREVENTING THE FLU

The Texas Department of State Health Services says the best way to prevent the spread of the flu is to remember the 3 C's:

  • Clean: Wash your hands often. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Cover: Cover your cough. Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Don't have a tissue? The crook of your elbow will do.
  • Contain: Contain germs by steering clear of others who are sick. If you do get sick, stay at home until you're well again, so you don't spread more germs.

Here are good resources from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
More resources:

Texas Department of State Health Services: Updates on the situation in Texas

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