Question of the Week

September 9, 2009


For the past few weeks, students around the world have been returning to school.

"As schools around the world reopen, health authorities are bracing for a major spike in swine flu. Schools are ideal breeding grounds for the virus. Not only are children more susceptible than adults to swine flu, but the crowded, sometimes unsanitary conditions gives the virus a perfect chance to spread. Countries on both sides of the Atlantic are closely monitoring schools, yet some have vastly different plans on whether they will close schools to fight the epidemic. Both the U.S. and the United Kingdom say they will not close schools except under exceptional circumstances. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said a massive school closing wouldn't stop swine flu. Experts say school closures simply buy time. They don't reduce the number of cases; they just spread them over a longer period. Closing schools is also disruptive and costly as working parents must juggle their schedules to take care of their children."

As college students head back to class--and back to dorm life--the H1N1 flu virus is returning to campus with them.

"Washington State University officials say more than 2,000 students have been sickened by swine flu during the first two weeks of classes on the Pullman campus. ... School officials say there have been no deaths and no students have required hospitalization. Dr. Dennis Garcia says most students suffer three to five days of discomfort. The school is handing out free flu kits including a thermometer, painkillers, throat lozenges, sport drinks, hand sanitizer and tissues."

Current guidelines are not encouraging widespread school closures, but health officials are asking individuals with flu symptoms to stay home for 24 hours after their fever has returned to normal without the aide of fever-reducing medication.

"The symptoms of 2009 H1N1 flu virus in people include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A significant number of people who have been infected with this virus also have reported diarrhea and vomiting. Severe illnesses and death has occurred as a result of illness associated with this virus."

Every year over 30,000 people in the United States die from influenza or complications related to the flu. Thousands more recover fully after the flu runs its course. While the H1N1 flu virus has been mild in most cases, it has caused complications and deaths. Schools have been put on alert not only because diseases typically spread well in these enclosed quarters, but a greater percentage of serious cases and deaths have been found among the young with this particular strain of the flu.

"[Dr. Jennifer Ashton] said most of the H1N1 cases have been mild, but because the virus appears to target young people, they will be among the first to receive the new vaccine. The new vaccine won't be available until mid-October, Ashton said, and those who get it still won't have full immunity until at least Thanksgiving. 'H1N1 is very infectious,' ... Ashton said children may get H1N1 because they don't have the built-in immunity that older people have because this is a new and unique strain of the influenza virus."

To help reduce the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, schools are stressing education about proper hand washing and encouraging those who have flu symptoms to stay home. School are also preparing for the largest campaign to vaccinate children in recent history.

"Schools around the U.S. are preparing to inoculate children in what could be the largest vaccination campaign since the days of polio. The government has bought 195 million doses and will ship them a bit at a time, starting with 45 million doses or so in October, to state health departments to dispense. ... A concern is whether enough people are worried about swine flu to get vaccinated. 'Complacency is a big challenge,' said CDC's Schuchat, who sees a balancing act between overly scaring people about the new flu and getting them to take it seriously."

The H1N1 flu virus will not be the only flu strain circulating this year, and the seasonal flu is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths every year. To reduce the spread of all cold and flu viruses, it is important for kids and adults to wash their hands well and frequently.

"Spread of 2009 H1N1 virus is thought to occur in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something -- such as a surface or object -- with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose."

While getting vaccinated and practicing good hygiene habits are things that most people can do to help reduce the spread of numerous diseases, additional recommendations are being promoted this flu season to specifically reduce the spread of the H1N1 flu. Following these guidelines will not only reduce the spread of H1N1, they will also reduce the spread of other communicable diseases.

For the most current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu): Resources for Child Care Programs, Schools, Colleges, and Universities" visit:

Questions of the Week:
If you or someone you know has a greater risk of complications from the flu, what additional precautions, if any, should you take this flu season? What can you do to reduce your risk of getting the flu? What should you do if you suspect that you might have the flu? As a healthy student, what can you do to help reduce the spread of the flu at your school? In what ways will the new H1N1 flu strain affect your behavior (and the behaviors of those around you) this flu season?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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