Nationwide swine flu outbreak leads school officials to review plans

Thomas Garcia

Area school superintendents joined a teleconference with state health and education leaders Thursday to review plans in the event a case of swine flu should turn up at one of their schools.

Thus far, no cases of swine flu have been confirmed in New Mexico. However, the number of probable cases has climbed to nine, as of early Friday afternoon.

The influenza virus is now being referred to as “H1N1” by federal health officials.

In some states where there are confirmed cases, such as Texas and Kansas, schools have been closed.

“At this point school closures are not being looked at,” said Gary Salazar, superintendent of San Jon Schools. “At this moment we are continuing as usual.”

On Thursday, the Department of Health said it was sending two more probable cases of swine flu to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmatory testing. The new samples are from a 14-year-old female and 15-year-old male both from Socorro County.

On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Richardson announced, the New Mexico Department of Health’s Epidemiology and Response Division was investigating two probable cases of swine flu, according to a press release.

The cases are a one-year-old male from Santa Fe County and an 18-year-old male from Valencia County, the release said. Results from these tests are expected late Friday.

Because of the growing number of swine flu cases in neighboring Texas, some schools have closed and some athletic and club activities were postponed.

If San Jon were to have students test positive for swine flu, closing the school would be a joint decision between the school, the Secretary of Education’s office and the health department, Salazar said.

All area schools have distributed information to their staff, students and parents, to keep them informed about the latest developments of the virus, said officials from all four school districts.

A letter from the New Mexico Public Education Department, containing prevention tips was distributed Wednesday to teachers and families of Quay County students, said Doug Hulce, superintendent of Logan Public Schools.

“It is all about being practical and using common sense,” Hulce said. “Students are being encouraged to wash their hands and the school nurse is our first line of intervention.”

Many of the county’s schools are closely monitoring the health of the students for any symptoms of the flu.

“Any student that develops and begins to show flu like symptoms will be given a face mask and isolated from the other students,” said Judy Jasper, Tucumcari district school nurse. “The student will be kept in isolation until their parents pick them up.”

School officials have also been checking on students who are absent from school.

“We are calling and checking in with parents about why their child did not attend school,” said Donna McGee, superintendent of House Public Schools. “Was it due to illness or for another reason.”

In Texas and Alabama some high school sporting activities such as state competitions have been affected by swine flu.

State high school competitions in New Mexico are still scheduled to begin on May 7, said Robert Zayas, director of communications, New Mexico Activates Association.

“We are taking it day-by-day,” Zayas said. “We are in constant communication with the department of health. They are the professionals in this field and the NMAA is going to follow their recommendations.”

Zayas said that the NMAA will continue to monitor the situation while working with the state’s Department of Health.

“We are going to do what is in the best for the athletes, their families and the fans,” Zayas said. “Right now, we are excited and are looking forward to hosting the state events for the athletes that have worked so hard to qualify for state competition.”

Flu prevention tips:
•Wash hands often with soap and warm water. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
•Avoid people who are ill.
•Stay home from work or school if sick.
•Use tissues when coughing, sneezing or spitting, and dispose of the tissue in a covered trash bin.
•Keep hands away from your face. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
•Cleaning shared space more often such as phone receivers, keyboards, steering wheels and office equipment.
Source: nmhealth.org

For more information visit these Web sites:
• www.hhs.gov
• www.cdc.gov/swineflu/
• www.health.state.nm.us
• NM Department of Health Flu Hotline: 1-866-850-5893