But that could change if fall outbreak proves more severe, government says
FRIDAY, Aug. 7 (HealthDay News) -- The school closures that swept across the United States last spring during the emergence of the H1N1 swine flu needn't be repeated this fall, according to new guidelines issued Friday by federal health officials.
However, the same guidelines noted that everything could change if the outbreak suddenly turns severe.
"New guidance for schools from the [U.S.] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will help schools prepare and respond to the H1N1 flu as kids get ready for school in the upcoming days," Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said during a Friday morning news conference.
"Schools must have clear guidance about how to minimize the spread of H1N1," Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, added during the same news conference.
"The decisions to close schools is a local one," she said. "Once you close a school, as we saw last spring, that causes a very significant ripple effect, because children need to stay home [and] that means parents need to be thinking about their own plans."
"The guidance we are providing today will give school officials the tools they need to make informed decisions about how to decrease exposure to the flu while limiting the disruption of day-to-day learning in schools," Napolitano added.
"What we don't know is whether or when H1N1 will return," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It's quite possible that it will come back when schools reopen. It is also possible that it will not."
As far as school closings go, the new guidelines offer a "range of options." According to the CDC, more than 55 million students and 7 million staffers head to the nation's 130,000 schools each weekday during the school year. In essence, the recommendations balance the need to contain the spread of the H1N1 swine flu against the disruption to education and inconvenience to parents that school closures can bring.
Among the recommendations:
However, these guidelines may need to be revisited and revised should the swine flu prove more dangerous this fall, health officials said. Under those conditions:
"Only schools with high numbers of high-risk students or students getting the flu should actually consider closure," Napolitano said.
Health officials may have another tool in their arsenal, as well: a swine flu vaccine.
"The best way to prevent the spread of the flu is vaccination, and our scientists are working hard to have a vaccine ready for consumption by mid-October," Sebelius said. According to the CDC's Frieden, "the vaccine will most likely, at least for children, require two doses separated by about three weeks or more."
"Because not a lot of kids get vaccinated against flu in a regular flu season, it's going to be challenging to get lots of kids vaccinated," he noted.
When the H1N1 vaccine is available, "we hope all providers and venues where flu vaccine can be given will be used. That includes, wherever possible, school-located vaccine clinics," Frieden said. "It's a great way to get all the kids vaccinated."
One expert called the new recommendations "sensible and reasonable," but noted that certain illnesses other than flu can cause sudden fever.
"My only concern is that people who dont have flu, I think they are recommending that anyone with a sign of fever has to be out of school for a week," said Dr. Stuart E. Beeber, attending physician at Northern Westchester Hospital and a pediatrician in private practice in Chappaqua, N.Y. "You could have a strep throat or gastroenteritis or something, and that's overkill for those people and a hardship on the families, working parents -- providing babysitters and so on for someone who has strep throat and is treated with penicillin and is ready to go back to school in a day or two."
Beeber noted that it is relatively quick and easy to identify strep throat, however, and the flu does have a distinctive set of symptoms. "To me, there are certain things - if you tell me you have chills, aches, you feel like someone hit you over the head with a sledgehammer, you've got the flu," he said.
Find out the latest on H1N1 flu at the CDC.
SOURCES: Stuart E. Beeber, attending physician, Northern Westchester Hospital, and pediatrician, private practice, Chappaqua, N.Y.; Aug. 7, 2009, news conference with: Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary; Janet Napolitano, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary; Arne Duncan, U.S. Department of Education Secretary; and Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Aug. 7, 2009, CDC Guidance for State and Local Public Health Officials and School Administrators for School (K-12) Responses to Influenza during the 2009-2010 School Year
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