Given the current trajectory ofthe H1N1 virus (swine flu), this fall should see far fewer flu-related schoolclosures than when the virus emerged in America last spring.
Though none of the city’sschools were closed because of severe concentrations of the virus, twoconfirmed cases were reported at Patrick Henry Elementary School this year andothers popped up elsewhere.
“We knew of six confirmedcases of H1N1 but we had schools where there were clusters of kids withflu-like symptoms that were never tested,” said Amy Carlini, the schools’spokesperson. “We’re pretty sure that they probably had it as well.”
Some suburban Marylandschools closed temporarily last spring, but Carlini said that the picture wasnever severe enough in Alexandria to force a school closure.
“We never got to thepoint where we had so many confirmed cases of [swine flu] that it was ever aquestion of whether to close the school or not,” she said.
Since that time, thedisease has proven less critical in the U.S. than elsewhere. The Center forDisease Control and Prevention has changed its recommendations to schoolsaccordingly.
“Things started offbeing really, really conservative and then when the virus was acting more likeseasonal flu, it was showing up here less severe here than it was in Mexico sothe CDC guidance changed,” Carlini said.
Last spring, the CDC saidstudents should stay out of school for seven days if they had any flu-likeillness, regardless of whether they were confirmed cases of swine flu or iftheir conditions improved during those seven days.
The CDC now recommends that”students and staff with influenza-like illness remain home until 24 hoursafter resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications,”according to its website.
Health officials estimatethat the revised protocol will “help protect one-fifth of the country’spopulation from flu,” decrease student exposure to swine flu and limit theamount of day-to-day disruption in classrooms, according to the CDC website.
“While the spread ofthe virus from person-to-person continues, the severity of the virus does notappear to be any more severe than with seasonal flu,” Alexandria schoolsSuperintendent Morton Sherman wrote to families earlier this month. “Thenew guidance from the CDC does not recommend closing schools unless themagnitude of faculty or student absenteeism interferes with the school’sability to function.”
Carlini did not have theexact number of Alexandria students sent home last school year due to swineflu, but did say that numbers continued to increase through the end of theyear.
“There were a lot ofkids who had flu-like symptoms and were asked to stay home, even if they didnot have confirmed cases of H1N1,” Carlini said. “That’s going to bethe same way this fall, but because regular testing for the virus has stopped,many could be staying home with the disease and not know it.”
“They’ve still got tofollow the same precautions,” she said.
After first emerging inApril, the new virus has since led to more than 43,000 confirmed cases in theUnited States and 477 deaths. Through the first week of August, the WorldHealth Organization reported more than 177,000 cases and 1,400 swineflu-related deaths around the globe, though numbers could be greater becauseregular testing stopped weeks ago.
According to the CDC, theU.S. continues to report the largest number of H1N1 cases of any countryworldwide but most people who became ill have been able to recover withouttreatment.