More schools struggling with flu-like outbreaks

June 10, 2009 3:52:46 PM PDT
Even as schools try to wrap up the academic year, they are being confronted by an unexpected "test" - dealing with outbreaks of flu-like illnesses.

Tests confirm that 2 students at the Hunter elementary school in the city's Kensington section had H1N1. They were among those sickened last week, when absentee rates first rose.

Hunter is the third Philadelphia school with confirmed cases.

Gretchen Burgos has 2 sons at Hunter Elementary.

She is one of dozens of parents attending this school's meeting to voice questions and concerns about the number of kids out sick with flu-like symptoms.

"I'm concerned about the safety of my kids," Burgos said.

There are 2 confirmed cases of the H1N1 at Hunter, and it's presumed kids with similar symptoms also have the virus.

Some parents are upset the school is still open.

"This is a hazard to their health. You're worried about educational-wise, but what about the children's health?" parent Tracey McKnight said.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Donald Schwarz says the virus is already out in the community, so closing schools won't help.

It's a similar situation with other schools in Philadelphia and surrounding counties.

100 kids are absent at Ithan Elementary in Radnor and there are 3 confirmed cases at the Lawrence Township School.

Dr. Schwarz says from what he's seen, most cases are mild.

"I wouldn't say this is a particularly severe stain of influenza, in part, that's because this strain is mostly affecting younger people, and they tend to be stronger," Dr. Schwarz said.

Another school, Rowen Elementary in Germantown, has had high sickness rates since last week. A letter went home to parents at the end of last week.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health says it won't test all sick kids, because if they have the same symptoms, they can now presume it's also swine flu

Dr. Donald Schwarz told Action News, "Testing everyone only costs money- it doesn't give us any new information.. The way we control and manage the illness doesn't change."

At the school, 150 out of 500 students and some staff members were out Tuesday - some are home due to parents taking precautions.

One 5th grader told Action News, "Usually, there's not a lot of people in my classroom out, but now there was."

Marisol Santiago took her son out..She's worried he may be bring the virus home.

"I've got an 8-month-old baby, and I don't want her to get sick, 'cause babies, you really can't give them any medications," she said.

The illness appears to be hitting several schools..... Rowan Elementary in Germantown reports a high number of kids out.

Other districts are seeing the same....140 kids were out at Ithan Elementary school in Radnor township. Again, some parents kept their kids out as a precaution.

Dr. Schwarz says closing schools won't limit the spread of the virus.. It's already out there.... But they're reminding about handwashing..... And keeping sick kids home. Teachers are also helping.

"So the teachers knows the symptoms and if seen, kids are sent to nurse and sent home," says Dr. Schwarz.

Health officials hope the end of school will also bring an end to the virus.

Dr. Schwarz believes it's more likely to die down due to weather.

"Ultimately as it gets warmer we expect it will die down and go away at least until the fall," he told Action News.

But state health officials aren't sure what course this virus will take.

"It's difficult to say what will happen," says Stacy Kreideman, a Pa. health department spokesperson.

"Children still congregate in the summer - at pools, camps, at sports, at recreation centers," she says.

"The numbers may not be as large, or the contact as long as in school," says Kreideman.

However, the good hygiene rules enforced during the school year may go lagging during summer vacation.

She says current test results indicate the virus is migrating toward the central and northeastern parts of Pennsylvania.

Kriedeman says most of the flu test results show the A-type virus. "There's very little seasonal flu," she says. "Mostly H1N1."

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