School district gearing up for swine flu

On the heels of a swine flu outbreak at the Valley's Boys & Girls Club, and with health experts warning that the disease may spread this fall, Douglas County School District officials are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

"We're taking every precaution possible," Superintendent Carol Lark said.

Lark said the school district is closely communicating with the state health department and other agencies.

"We're all communicating together," she said. "We want to be very well-prepared."

Lark stressed communicating with parents as well.

"I will be communicating with parents at any and all points where a concern may arise," she said. "And I will be addressing protocol and steps taken with every administrator."

One precaution the district has already taken is the adoption of a rigorous deep-cleaning policy, keeping each site disinfected.

"We're watching things very closely and are prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect the kids," said Bonnie Dellner, district chief nurse. "We're getting updates every day from the CDC on how many cases there are and what's going on."

Dellner said if an outbreak occurs, the affected site would most likely be closed.

"We do have a plan," she said. "With the Boys & Girls Club, there were two cases from the same location; so we shut down the site for a week to break the incubation cycle.

"During the school year, if we start seeing a group of kids coming down with the flu, we'll meet with the board of education, get a consensus and then probably do a shutdown."

Dellner said elementary schools are more at risk for an outbreak than secondary schools.

"It's more probable at an elementary school because younger children are in closer contact," she said. "They tend not to have as good of a handle on hygiene."

Dellner said it's crucial parents teach their children simple protective measures.

"It's fairly simple to follow the CDC guidelines," she said. "The main thing about swine flu is that it's more of a respiratory-spread disease. If parents want to protect their kids, they need to follow some basic steps for respiratory-spread diseases: Good handwashing, frequently, especially in public if their kids have touched things; covering their nose and mouth with the inside of their elbow when sneezing or coughing, to keep droplets from spreading in the air.

"And, if kids are already sick, if they have a fever or anything like that, parents should keep them home - that is the most important part."

Dellner said it's also important for kids to maintain their overall health.

"Parents should make sure their kids are getting enough sleep, that they're eating and drinking well and staying well-hydrated," she said. "Kids that have problems with their immune system are more open to getting something. If parents notice that their child is not looking quite right or is coming down with something, they should seek medical attention immediately."

Dellner said the district will be sending a flu fact sheet home with students during the first week of school. She said they'll also be setting up an informational auto-dialer, and that she herself will be available for questions.

"I hope parents feel free to call me with any questions regarding the possibility of their kids getting swine flu," she said. "I'm glad to help anyone I can."

Dellner can be reached at her Douglas High School office at 782-5136 ext. 1357.

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