HARTFORD — - Swine flu is likely to make a resurgence in schools this fall and localhealth districts should plan to set up vaccination clinics in school buildings, state epidemiologist Matthew L. Cartter told the State Board of Education Wednesday.
Cartter also said health officials should work closely with school personnel to limit disruptions and also with parents to keep sick children at home.
Swine flu is already making a comeback in the South and West — outbreaks have been reported at Emory University in Atlanta, the University of Alabama and Tulane University in New Orleans — prompting Cartter's warning to prepare Connecticut schools for the next wave of the pandemic.
The board has formed a committee to recommend guidance and policies to pass along to local school districts.
During the meeting Wednesday, Cartter recommended that health districts develop contingency plans to set up vaccination clinics in schools as early as November. That would take pressure off pediatricians worried they will overwhelmed just trying to treat ill children, let alone give shots, he said.
So far, the H1N1 virus has sickened 1,964 people and killed seven in Connecticut, Cartter said.
When the virus first hit the state this spring, some schools reacted to outbreaks by closing temporarily, often in response to parental pressure. Health officials are now urging a more tempered approach because, at this point, the flu outbreak is not expected to worsen.
"We are not recommending schools dismiss early or close," Cartter said. "We want to keep them open and minimize disruption."
He urged parents to keep sick children at home until 24 hours after their fever is gone. One board member pointed out that sick children are sometimes sent to school because there is no one at home to look after them, adding that such actions could be a problem this fall. She urged schools to work with parents to ensure that they understand the importance of keeping sick children at home.
Another board member asked whether it is necessary to clean schools from top to bottom every night during an outbreak.
Cartter said no, that the flu virus will only survive on surfaces for a few hours and will be gone by the next morning. But he said it is important to clean equipment such as handrails routinely during the day and to use hand sanitizers.
"The emphasis should be on preventing the virus from spreading while students are there," he said.
To help prevent transmission of the virus, Connecticut is expected to get a limited number of doses of vaccine from the federal government around mid-October. Given the small amount and the fact that each person must get two doses, the state Department of Public Health plans to use the vaccine as a tool to try to contain the spread of the virus, he said.
Asked whether it makes sense for students and teachers to wear surgical masks during an outbreak, Cartter said the masks are not very effective at stopping the spread of the virus, which is transmitted by sneezing or coughing. "Once they get wet, the virus goes right through it," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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