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COLUMN: Perham schools take steps to plan for swine flu surge this fall

I heard a story that went something like this: a pastor was peddling his bike down the street when he came upon a sad looking girl sitting on the curb next to a push lawn mower. The pastor asked the girl why she looked so sad. The girl replied, "I am trying to earn enough money to buy a bike before the summer is over but it is hard work and time is running out."

The pastor felt badly; he offered to trade his bike for the mower. The girl said she needed a test peddle first. She peddled around the block, returned, and told the pastor, "It's a deal."

But the pastor said he needed a test mow. He pulled on the mower's recoil. Nothing happened. He pulled again. Nothing. A third pull. Again, nothing. He looked at the girl on his bike. He said, "This mower doesn't start."

"Oh, it starts," she said, "but you might have to cuss a bit first."

"Cuss a bit?" the pastor said, "I haven't cussed in years; I don't think I even remember how to cuss."

"Yank on that cord about five more times," the girl advised, "It'll come back to you."

Though this story is told in jest, there are some things we really don't want to come back to us, ever, and that list includes a flu epidemic. Yet we find ourselves planning for a surge in the H1N1 or "swine flu" this fall. The federal, state, and county health departments are working hard to get information out. The intent of this article is to share some of that information with the community.

The Minnesota Department of Health defines H1N1 as, "a respiratory illness caused by a virus."

The website: ( goes on to state the signs and symptoms include, "fever (above 100°F), cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, and, in some cases diarrhea and vomiting."

We are going to explicitly teach students to help stop the spread of H1N1 influenza. MDH explains that because H1N1 spreads when a person with it coughs or sneezes, or when a person touches something with flu viruses on it and then touches eyes, nose, or mouth. The best plan of action is to, "Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze. Throw the used tissue in the waste basket." No tissue? "Sneeze or cough into your sleeve. Clean your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible. Stay healthy: eat nutritious foods, get enough sleep, and exercise." Repetition and reinforcement of this same training at home is imperative. Sending a box of tissues for the desk and / or locker is a great idea. In addition to our "sneeze education" we plan to teach and encourage hand washing and germ removal from one's own desk and locker and keyboard via disinfectant swipes.

Our schools are at the ready to serve as a vaccination center if we are called upon. Remember, "there is no vaccine available right now," according to MDH. The "vaccine is expected to be available in the fall," a "novel H1N1 vaccination effort designed to help reduce the impact and spread of novel H1N1." As we learn more, we will share that information with families. Note that any vaccination is voluntary.

Children and staff who develop H1N1 symptoms will be sent home immediately and must stay out of school as per MDH recommendations which currently state 24 hours after symptoms cease, a total of five to seven days, in which case families need to pre-plan for extended alternate child care. At one time, health officials thought it wisest to close schools immediately when a single student developed H1N1. Schools closed and the students went to the mall to share germs. Thus, school closings will be dependent upon advice from the health experts monitoring H1N1. We will take very seriously advice from health officials and we will closely monitor illnesses.

As families plan for the impact of H1N1, they should locate and keep "important medical and emergency information handy and updated." In addition, MDH recommends making an emergency kit by filling "boxes or plastic bins with everything you need to stay home for two weeks. For a list of things to put in such a kit and to learn more about preparing for a pandemic, visit the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Web site."

As information develops, plans will adjust to the nature and size of the outbreak. Expert advice will be followed. Two recommended information sites include the Minnesota Department of Health (, 1-877-676-5414, TTY: 651-201-5797 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Attention: Non-MDH link, 1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636), TTY: 1-888-232-6348.

Whether or not the H1N1 Flu becomes a pandemic, it will impact how schools operate this fall. We expect media hype, confusion, and fear. At the school, we will work hard on teaching prevention, sharing information, and remaining calm as we care for and educate the community's children.

(source: , August 24, 2009)