Schools Brace for H1N1 Outbreaks

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has already had to put its plans into action. School officials said Monday that 18 students are believed to have H1N1. The information was immediately e-mailed out to the school’s students as an alert and people who live off campus who experience symptoms are being asked to stay away until they are tested for the H1N1 flu strain.

“If you live within 150 miles of campus, we encourage you to recuperate at home, if at all possible,” the e-mail said, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Students living on campus are being isolated if they show symptoms, and the school says professors are being notified about ill students so they can make up missed class work. The school is also following the recommendation to keep students in isolation until they are fever-free for 24 hours.

The communication and isolation strategies being used at Carnegie Mellon are similar to what many colleges have planned in case of an H1N1 outbreak. Grammar schools and high schools are also making preparations for disruptions to the classroom.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Monday schools should have hard-copy packets and online lessons prepared in case large numbers of students have to be kept at home because of swine flu.

“I’m concerned that the H1N1 virus might disrupt learning in some schools across the country,” he said, reported the Associated Press.

Schools should have a room available to isolate students that are showing symptoms of the flu, before they can be picked up and taken home, Duncan said. As with Carnegie Mellon, and in accordance with new guidelines, students with the flu are to be kept home for 24 hours after the end of a fever.

But federal officials and the Centers for Disease Control have said schools should only be closed as a last resort. More than 700 schools throughout the nation closed last spring in reaction to H1N1 cases, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said earlier this month that only schools with “high numbers of high-risk students,” exhibits flu symptoms should consider closing.

Schools and universities are facing a daunting task of protecting a vulnerable population without breaking the school and extracurricular schedules. Children and adults between 6 months and 24 years old are particularly vulnerable to the H1N1 virus, while older populations appear to have a greater immunity to the strain.

A U.S. presidential advisory group warned this week that the virus may infect up to half of the U.S. population this fall and winter and may lead to between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths. About 36,000 people die of seasonal flu in the United States each year, but because H1N1 is new and people have less or no immunity it could be more deadly, reported National Geographic News.

Schools systems are being encouraged to pay close attention to attendance figures. In Chicago, each afternoon the school district will send daily broken-down attendance figures to the city’s Department of Public Health, reported USA Today. The hope is to be able to warn schools and families if an outbreak could be imminent.

Communication between schools, students and parents is a key component of most schools plans. Some universities have even set up websites specifically for swine flu news or alerts.

Schools are also planning for another daunting task ahead of them in October -the CDC has said schools may be used as vaccination sites so they are planning how and where to set up temporary clinics – all while class continues as normal.

Public media stations across the country have been following how their communities are preparing for the flu. Here’s a look at what they’ve found so far:

WUNC: North Carolina School Flu Plans Already Being Tested

Alaska Public Radio: State Issues Preventive Swine Flu Steps

American Public Media: Swine flu prevention may cost schools

WBUR: Will Swine Flu Sideline Your School This Year?

WCPN: Cleveland Crisis Expert on Front Lines of Swine Flu Preparation

WAMU: Local D.C. Universities Prepare for Threat of Swine Flu this Fall

Capital Public Radio: Sacramento Schools Prepare for Swine Flu

Colorado Public Radio: Preparing Young People for Swine Flu

NPR: School Officials Juggle Budget Deficits, Swine Flu