Students may not have had H1N1
Dr. Neyland Clark, superintendent of South Harrison Community School Corp., said last week that two students who were reported to have had the H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu, may not have been infected.
Letters to parents, which outlined the guidelines and procedures taken by the corporation in response to the findings, went home with all students after it was reported that one student at Corydon Elementary School and one student at Heth-Washington Elementary School had confirmed cases of H1N1.
Clark said he received notification late Monday afternoon from Corydon Elementary Principal Tamela Brewer that there was a CES student who was reported to have H1N1. Clark said he didn’t believe the results because there wouldn’t have been adequate time for the cultures to have been submitted, tested at a state laboratory and results returned. He said Brewer told him the parents had documentation from the child’s physician, however.
‘We took the precaution of notifying parents as is the protocol from the state. We have three students at CES that have fragile medical conditions where their immune systems could be compromised, so we notified those parents,’ Clark said. ‘I apologize for the information that was put out but, without the adequate information, I’m going to err on the side of caution.’
Since seasonal flu is typically dormant until the end of September or early November, local physicians have been instructed by the state that if a person tests positive for Type A influenza, they are to be considered as having ‘suspected’ or ‘probable’ cases of H1N1.
As for the case at Heth-Washington, Clark said the student had a general case of the flu before last week’s start of school and was given a clean bill of health to return to class two days before classes began Aug. 10.
‘The student had the flu over the summer and was never even sick inside our doors,’ Clark said.
Clark, who said he had received several threatening messages last Wednes-day saying he was ‘killing children’ by not closing schools, went on to say that unless his corporation has confirmation from the state health lab, no further erroneous information will be released to parents.
‘But I still stand by my statement that if we are going to err, we are going to err on the side of caution,’ Clark said. ‘If a child is sick, it could be the regular flu. If we have kids that run a fever, we’ll send them home like we always do. Unfor-tunately, we’ve basically started a panic with this.’
On the heels of the situation, Clark, along with North Harrison Community School Corp. Interim Supt. Randy Barrett, Lanesville Community School Corp. Interim Supt. Sam Gardner, school nurses from all three corporations, Harrison County Health Department Administrator Tony Combs, Harrison County Emer-gency Management Agency Director Greg Reas and representatives from Harrison County Hospital, met yesterday afternoon (Tuesday) for an informational meeting about H1N1 and how to better handle any future outbreak.
Combs said the meeting, which lasted about two hours, seemed to be very productive.
‘I think this is wonderful that we can get all of the players involved in the interest of handling this issue,’ Combs said. ‘The national media has overhyped the story. We need to inform the public, not instill fear.’
After an introduction to start the meeting, Clark told those in attendance he had one major goal.
‘I hope whatever we do, it’s consistent with what our counterparts would do at Lanesville and North Harrison,’ he said.
‘I hope we can reach some sense of consensus and a common, countywide protocol in responding to an outbreak.’
‘I think a common letter is very important. Anytime the message strays off center, people want to know why one thing was handled one way at one school and handled differently at another,’ Reas said.
Clark went on to explain how last week’s incident started, how it was handled and what he may have done differently.
South Harrison school nurse Cynthia Tyree said the only thing she would have changed in last week’s letter was to use the word ‘suspected’ instead of ‘confirmed’ in regards to how to describe the cases of swine flu.
‘Other than that, the information on the letter hit the nail on the head. We should use universal precautions. We should wash our hands. We should stay home if we are sick. These are just basic things that everyone can do,’ Tyree said.
Debbie Gibson, Harrison County Hospital coordinator of infection control, asked the administrators if the attendance policy has been changed to accommodate students who are out with the flu.
‘If you really, truly have the flu, you are going to be out of school seven to 10 days,’ she said.
Clark said he couldn’t answer for the other school systems, but South Harrison will continue its standard policy of allowing an ex-cused absence with a doctor’s note.
Combs made a presentation about H1N1 and said that all Type A influenza cases are assumed to be H1N1 positive.
‘The Indiana State Department of Health state laboratory and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are only accepting samples from sentinel physicians and labs,’ Combs said. ‘They’ve stopped accepting any other cultures for testing.’
Combs said H1N1 is defined as a novel virus, meaning most people don’t have any natural immunity to it.
‘We haven’t developed any antibodies to it because we’ve not been exposed to it. Older people may still have a little bit of immunity because they may have been exposed many, many years ago. The younger folks haven’t been exposed to it, which is why it tends to affect them more often,’ he said.
Combs went on to say that, like seasonal flus, H1N1 could possibly mutate into a more violent virus, but it won’t be known when or how strong until it actually happens.
The symptoms of H1N1 and the seasonal flu are very similar. Someone who has a cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, upset stomach and, most importantly, fever could be H1N1 positive. Or not.
‘Other than that, it’s just the flu. That’s what it is,’ Combs said. ‘Yes, it could be worse than the normal flu that we see, but right now it isn’t and we should treat it as such.’
One result of the meeting is, that in order to gather data for the county health department, schools will soon start asking basic questions to parents who call in to report a sick child. Parents may be asked to give the child’s symptoms so they can be forwarded to Combs’ office.
Also, schools will give the health department their attendance information and provide how many children and staff members are out sick.