District is preparing for potential pandemic
As a school nurse, Gail Setterstrom is always reminding kids to wash their hands or to cover their mouths when they cough.
These days, the Farmington School District's head nurse has even more reason to push good hygeine. With some health officials worried about a flu pandemic this fall, Setterstrom and other district employees will pay close attention to every sneeze and sniffle from students.
For the most part, Farmington schools will follow guidelines put out by the Minnesota Department of Health. That means talking to students about proper handwashing technique, and about the importance of covering their coughs and sneezes.
Sederstrom is also making sure district employees know the signs of the flu so they can spot sick kids quickly.
When concern spread last spring about the spread of H1N1 influenza Health department guidelines call for kids to be out of school for five days to a week if they're diagnosed with the flu. That has been scaled back some now, but the Centers for Disease Control recommends keeping kids home at least 24 hours after there are no longer signs of a fever.
That means parents might need a plan in place in case a child is sick for an extended period.
Minnesota has had 259 hospitalized cases of H1N1 influenza to date.
Vaccines for the flu should be available in mid-October. Setterstrom said she'll work with Dakota County to get access to the vaccine.
With so many kids in such a confined space, Setterstrom is concerned about the potential for a flu bug to spread in Farmington schools.
"It seems like we get into school just a few weeks and even common colds spread easily," Setterstrom said. "If we can prevent something from happening or at least decrease the effects of the flu, we're sure going to do that."
Beyond getting kids vaccinated and reminding them to wash up, though, there's not a whole lot the district can do to actively fight the flu. The key, Setterstrom said, will be to pay attention and to make sure isolated cases don't become a districtwide problem. There has already been one district-level meeting on the subject, and another is planned for Friday. Setterstrom also plans to work with teachers on how to handle flu cases when they show up.
Setterstrom said parents in doubt about whether their child is healthy enough to come to school should err on the side of keeping kids home.
"(Students) can look fine at 8 in the morning and then by noon something happens," she said. "Teachers are going to have to keep vigilant."