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Schools prepare to battle flu season


September 22, 2010
In hopes that the flu will not spread like wildfire this year and that H1N1 scares can be put to rest, local school districts have done their preparation work for the encroaching flu season.

Most school districts in the Lakes Region will be offering flu clinics to their students and faculty through Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, a branch of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Many school district nurses in the area are also tracking any signs of influenza, such as illnesses visible in students or faculty members and symptoms of the common flu, and they're sending the reports to the state.

School nurses are recommending the flu vaccine this year to lessen the chance of symptoms in students, and as a result, the transmission of symptoms. Common respiratory hygiene is high on the list as well.

"We are planning to do a district wide clinic for the kids in particular with Lakes Region Public Health and we do the same respiratory hygiene reminders all the time," said Gilford High School nurse Meg Jenkins.

These hygiene reminders include obvious but preventive habits including staying at home when sick, covering the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, washing hands with warm soap and water regularly, avoiding touching the mouth or the nose where germs can often be transmitted, and practicing healthy habits such as exercising and eating right, drinking enough fluids, and getting adequate sleep.

Jenkins said the Gilford School District will run an in-house staff vaccination, and that a plan is already in place to battle the sniffles this flu season.

Like many districts in the area, Gilford school nurses will monitor symptoms and cases of influenza this year within the schools, as well as the attendance of students and absence trends throughout the year.

Last year, a couple of students within the school district were diagnosed with H1N1 and a large number of students and some faculty members were out sick for part of the year with a variety of illnesses. Many were out earlier than expected in the season.

"Last year things were just so tentative and everyone was in the dark. We treated a lot of people as though they had H1N1, but there certainly seems to be less hype and panic this year. There's less anxiety in general from the community," said Jenkins. "We're not working in the dark as much this year. We have seen what it will be like and we plan to have a clinic sooner."

While the flu shot is a personal choice, Jenkins said she believes the benefits outweigh the risks in the end.

Belmont Elementary School nurse Rachelle Ashe said she feels her school district is more prepared this year for flu season and will be offering flu clinics for students through the New Hampshire Immunization Program on behalf of Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, a pilot program this year.

"We are also offering staff flu clinics to vaccinate and reduce transmission," said Ashe, who will also track and report influenza like symptoms and related absences.

She said the clinics will be extended this year and will "keep kids healthy and parents at work."

"We really don't know what flu season will look like this year but we are fully prepared," said Ashe. "We are hoping we can reach more students earlier and decrease the numbers of flu-like illness."

She said this particular flu vaccine will cover H1N1 and two other strains of influenza.

Inter-Lakes High School nurse Jodi Pendexter said flu season does not appear as ominous this year as it did last year but still encourages all students to get their flu shot and practice general hygiene.

"We encourage general hand washing, not sharing, staying home when sick - especially when you have a fever," said Pendexter. "Last year we had a fair amount of illness but that always happens when you put 600 children in the same building."

Last year the Inter-Lakes School District provided education on H1N1. This year they are hanging up posters around the school but will be back to focusing on the general flu this year.

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