Officials prepare for flu season

COVINGTON - Staff members in the Newton County School System are promoting good health and hygiene habits this school year in light of flu concerns.

"Prevention is key, and we will continually stress and communicate this message with parents throughout the school year but especially during the flu season," said Sherri Viniard, director of public relations at NCSS. "We will be receiving updates on the current status of H1N1 preparedness requirements through our regional Gwinnett/Newton/Rockdale Board of Health Office and the state Department of Education."

So far, Newton County as a whole has seen four cases of H1N1, or the swine flu, according to the East Metro Health District.

Vernon Goins, communications and outreach coordinator at EMHD, said the age range is from 8 to 53, with the median age of 26; one of the cases came from an outbreak at a North Carolina camp earlier this year.

"So far, no school clusters have been reported for this school year," he said.

Viniard said late Tuesday that there had been "three reported cases of flu in our schools. We have not been told that these are laboratory confirmed H1N1 other than Type A flu."

The school system is being proactive in preventing an outbreak of H1N1 and the seasonal flu.

Schools already have or plan to put information out about the flu and good hygiene habits on school Web sites, in school newsletters and announcements and on posters in the school buildings. Schools hope to remind students about hand washing, covering their mouths and noses with a tissue or their elbows when they cough or sneeze and keeping germs away from their eyes and mouths.

Although nurses and other school staff members will watch for sick students, parents also should pay close attention to their students' health habits.

"Even before H1N1 became a household word, we have asked that parents keep children at home if they exhibit flu-like symptoms, one of which is a high fever. If your child could be contagious, it's extremely important to keep him or her at home," Viniard said. "The CDC recommends that people with a flu-like illness remain at home at least 24 hours after they are free of fever - 100 degrees - or signs of fever without fever-reducing medication."

Students who develop a high fever at school will be placed in an isolation area that is separate from the clinic until a parent can come pick up the child, so other students coming to the clinic to be treated for minor scrapes and injuries or to receive daily medication will not be exposed, Viniard said.

"With working parents, I know it's hard, but this is serious, and they need to understand this," Newton County School Board Chairman C.C. Bates said.

NCSS officials also may change some procedures as a result of the flu.

"In light of an H1N1 outbreak, the school system is reviewing whether the practice of awarding perfect attendance will be continued," Viniard said. "We do not need sick students sent to school just to get an award."

Additionally, Viniard said school officials are reviewing such issues as prevention information for students and staff, monitoring declining attendance of students and staff, utilization of appropriate communication, vaccination information and processes and other plans and procedures.

In the event of an outbreak or emergency, the school system will use its automated phone messaging system, School Messenger.

"We will utilize our Web site and School Messenger rapid phone notification system to alert parents and provide important information quickly," Viniard said.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: At A Glance

Preventing the Flu: Good health habits can help stop germs

1. Avoid close contact

2. Stay home when you are sick

3. Cover your mouth and nose

4. Clean your hands

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth

6. Practice other good health habits

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention