Swine flu gains foothold in schools, collegesSchools are following protocol from health agencies and sending home students with flu-like symptoms.
By: Jana Hollingsworth and Sarah Horner, Duluth News Tribune
Reports of students absent with flu-like symptoms are mounting at local school districts and colleges.
Duluth, Proctor and the University of Wisconsin-Superior have joined Two Harbors, the University of Minnesota Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica with students staying home, being sent home or self-
isolating in student housing to get well.
“There are more today [out] than Friday,” said Kitty Johnson, a nurse for the Proctor School district. The district is following protocol from various health agencies and sending sick students home.
UMD has confirmed one of its 20 or so cases in order to help health-service workers ensure the virus was what they were seeing, said Susan Latto, a spokeswoman for UMD.
With about three-quarters of schools reporting, the Duluth school district counted about 20 students out with flu-like symptoms Monday, said Curt Conrad, the district’s coordinator of health safety and environmental management.
“I think that sounds a little alarming,” Conrad said. “Normally we wouldn’t be seeing the flu yet, so I guess any case right now is a little alarming.”
The numbers aren’t yet prompting changes in protocol, which calls for schools to keep all students with high fevers and coughs or sore throats home from school. Conrad said districts are establishing trends of absences right now and are required to report to the Minnesota Department of Health if the numbers double. If that happens, districts may be asked to reexamine how to handle the virus.
“Prevention is the best route at this point, which is why it’s so important to make sure we don’t have sick kids at school,” Conrad said. “School needs to be a safe zone.”
The district is still working to get all staff members on board with the influenza-tracking system. Everyone is expected to be up to speed by Wednesday at the latest, Conrad said.
The district is working with the St. Louis County Health Department to determine which schools will act as dissemination sites for the H1N1 vaccine once it becomes available. A few schools will have it, Conrad said.
On Monday, a “flu summit” was held in Brooklyn Center, Minn., where flu expert Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota said he’s worried that swine flu will peak in Minnesota before enough vaccine arrives. He expects swine flu cases to be the worst in the next six to eight weeks. The vaccine is meant to be ready in early October.
UWS has two students reporting the symptoms, which include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches or fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The symptoms are similar to those for seasonal flu, but experts have said recently that it’s too early for seasonal flu in the region.
St. Scholastica has had 29 students with possible swine flu since school began, with five going home and the rest self-isolating, said Mary Zimmermann, a school spokeswoman. No students have been hospitalized, and those who were sick earlier on are getting better, she said.
Schools in Esko, Cloquet, Hermantown and Superior, as well as the Duluth Public Schools Academy (Edison) have had no reports of students suffering from flu-like illnesses as of Monday.
Superior schools are prepared for cases, however, said Nancy Smith, director of health services. The bigger schools in the system have set aside waiting areas for kids to be picked up from once they’ve reported symptoms, so they are separated immediately from the rest of the students, she said.
Schools won’t be closed in Superior unless the percentage of absenteeism warrants it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.