Parents asked to monitor students’ health

Although Archuleta County is yet to report incidents of the H1N1 flu (swine flu) virus, local public health officials remain poised and prepared to deal with cases as they occur while national medical leadership is urging for parents and teachers to form the front lines of defense.

According to the San Juan Basin Health Department (SJBHD), Washington State and Canadian school districts have asked parents to check their children every morning for signs of illness and to keep them home from school if they appear sick.

The San Juan Basin Health Department is asking the same of parents in Archuleta and La Plata counties.

In addition, teachers have been asked to monitor students carefully to detect flu signs, and to send them to student health offices for evaluation. In Archuleta School District 50 Joint and Durango School District 9R, suspect students are being sent home.

“I’m not an alarmist, but I’m stepping up the hygiene and I’m sending kids home. I sent one home the other day. If you have a fever, you’re outta here,” said Maureen Margiotta, district nurse for Archuleta School District 50 Joint.

Margiotta said the district’s push to ramp up student and classroom hygiene — based on observations of student behavior — appears to be working.

“We are really trying to tamp it down,” Margiotta said. “We are seeing influenza A in the district, and we are reinforcing everything they (the students) have been told. Influenza never really left this year. People need to calm down and practice good personal hygiene.”

To that end, Margiotta said the district has boosted its own efforts to sanitize and disinfect classrooms, and to remind students of the importance of covering sneezes and coughs, regular handwashing, and keeping their hands away from their faces.

Although influenza A is present in Archuleta County schools, the district is yet to report a case of the H1N1, or swine flu, strain. However, in the event a case occurs, district officials will work with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), SJBHD and county officials in order to determine if a school closure is warranted.

In the meantime, Margiotta urged parents to follow a few simple steps before sending their potentially flu-infected children to school, or before rushing them to the doctor or hospital.

“Take their temperature, manage their symptoms, and call your physician or the school nurse. Talk it over on the telephone, and call before arriving at the doctor’s office or hospital,” Margiotta said.

And under no circumstances, Margiotta said, should a parent send a sick child to school.

In the U.S., the local, state and national health officials report H1N1 flu continues to act similar to the seasonal flu. However, public health officials remain concerned because no vaccination is available to keep the virus from spreading further. And unlike the seasonal flu, H1N1 is a new virus that health officials are still learning about — hence, aggressive actions such as school closures utilized across the country to slow its spread.

The CDC has been monitoring the effectiveness of these actions. Additionally, the CDC learns more each day on the severity of the H1N1 strain which can prompt revisions of its school closure guidance.

In fact, the CDC issued new interim guidance on school closures Tuesday, which recommends the primary means to reduce spread of influenza in schools is to focus on early identification of ill students and staff, staying home when ill, and good cough and hand hygiene etiquette.

The SJBHD Web site (www.sjbhd.org) has local updates with links to state and national agencies. Individuals can also call the Colorado CO-Health Help line at (877) 462-2911.

As of press time Wednesday, the CDC reported 642 confirmed cases in 41 states, with two deaths.

The CDPHE reports 10 cases in the state.

The four newest cases include:

• A primary school-age child from Adams County.

• A college-age man from Adams County.

• A primary school-age boy from Jefferson County.

• A woman in her 30s from Fremont County.

Previously reported cases are:

• A man in his 20s from Adams County.

• A woman in her 30s from Arapahoe County.

• A man in his 40s from Douglas County

• A man in his 20s from Eagle County.

• A middle school-age boy from Jefferson County

• A man in his 20s from Adams County (previously reported as Jefferson County).

People who experience influenza symptoms should stay home for seven days after onset of symptoms or at least 24 hours after symptoms have resolved, whichever is longer. The state is working closely with public health officials in the counties where cases are confirmed.

james@pagosasun.com