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Flu spray keeps the doc away

a new flu season, and an H1N1 vaccine on the way, local schools are working to prevent the spread of illness among students.

“We’re stressing prevention,” North Kitsap School District spokeswoman Chris Case said. “If a kid has a fever — and we’re saying a fever is 100 degrees — we basically tell the kid they have to go home.”

A vaccine for the H1N1 flu should be available by mid-October, Kitsap County Health District spokesman Scott Daniels said.

During the first week of classes, school district administrators sent a letter to parents informing them of the district’s efforts to prevent the flu, and outlining some ways parents can help. In addition, schools have put up posters encouraging students to wash their hands, cough into their sleeves, keep food and personal items to themselves and stay home if they are sick.

Both the school district and health district recommends anyone ill with the flu stay home until 24 hours after their fever has gone away.

“That’s one of the most important messages schools can get out to their kids and families,” Daniels said.

According to the health district, symptoms of the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, are similar to those of the seasonal flu, and should be treated likewise. Daniels reminds anyone who suspects they have the H1N1 flu to rest, drink plenty of fluids and monitor their fever. Most people who contract the H1N1 flu heal within a few days, like patients of the seasonal flu.

“There’s no need to panic,” Daniels said. “What we don’t want to do is have everybody with the flu go and see their doctor. We don’t have this kind of panic with the seasonal flu.”

People with either type of flu should see a doctor if their symptoms become severe and include trouble breathing, fever with a rash, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, pain in the abdomen, bluish skin color or dizziness.

The two viruses tend to target different groups of people, and as a result different people are given priority for each type of vaccination.

While the seasonal flu mainly affects senior citizens, the primary group at risk for getting the H1N1 virus is people aged 6 months to 24 years.

“The key messages we’re trying to get out are the differences in priority groups,” Daniels said. “Children have a higher priority with the H1N1 vaccine.”

When the first doses of the H1N1 vaccine become available, they will be in the form of a nasal spray, Daniels said. The vaccine will protect against the H1N1 flu, but a separate shot is necessary to prevent the seasonal flu. Both vaccines may be taken at the same time, as long as at least one is a dead, inactive virus.

So far, flu absences in the North Kitsap School District have been limited. The school district only reports student absences to the health district when numbers reach 10 percent. This week at Kingston High and Kingston Middle School, 14 percent of students were out sick. Numbers at other district schools were less than 10 percent.

“It’s probably about what you would expect to see in the regular flu season,” Case said.

Unless there is a significant shortage of students and teachers, it is unlikely schools will close because of the flu.

Case said teachers are doing what they can to keep sick students from falling behind. Grade school teachers are sending work home, and many teachers at the high school level post assignments online, so students can access them from home.

“We really want them to stay home without worrying,” Case said.

For more local information about the H1N1 flu and vaccine, visit www.kitsapcountyhealth.com/h1n1/h1n1 and www.nkschools.org.

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