What to Do if H1N1 Hits Your Kid's School

Two children stand in an urban setting, one sneezing into their elbow, the other holding a bottle of soapless hand cleanser. iStockphoto

About 600 schools have shut their doors already for a period of time this flu season due to an outbreak of the H1N1 virus.

With the trend expected to continue, school closings will almost certainly exceed last spring's total of 700 -- despite federal officials recommending at the beginning of the school year that schools stay open and not disrupt normal activities for the pandemic. Every day this week in the United States, there were more than 200 schools closed due to H1N1.

And the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 19 deaths from H1N1 complications among children in the latest reporting week, the biggest weekly number yet, and brining the total to 114. It was the second straight weekly spike.


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So, parents are facing a dilemma: What if the virus hits your youngster's classroom or school? Do you send a healthy child to class, or keep him or her home?

Dr. Holly Phillips supplied some answers on "The Early Show Saturday Edition."

She advised that you make sure the sick kids are home and there are no symptomatic kids still in school. Keep kids home at the first sign of illness. Parents are on the frontline and are going to make the biggest difference in this national health emergency, Phillips says, adding that, by keeping kids home at the first hint he or she may have H1N1, you're protecting them and others. And that, she says, is how we'll keep our schools open.

What about when your child is healthy but you learn someone in their class or school has H1N1?

That's a tough call, Phillips admitted to "The Early Show Saturday Edition co-anchor Erica Hill, but, "The best thing to do is communicate with the teachers and the school staff to make sure the sick kids are at home and they're staying home, and also there aren't children with symptoms still in the classroom."

After-school activities may actually pose a greater risk of H1N1 transmission than school hours, Phillips points out, because kids are in closer contact, playing sports, in locker rooms, socializing, etc. Touching and breathing are a breeding ground for the illness.

If your child is on a play date, don't hesitate to ask other parents questions if you suspect any of their friends is displaying possible H1N1 symptoms. It's better to be safe than sorry, she says.

Typical first signs of H1N1 include fever, body aches and a runny nose; coughs come a little later.

Halloween presents a unique challenge, Philips admits, so parents should make sure trick-or-treaters follow the usual hygiene rules, by washing their hands frequently, perhaps using a hand sanitizer, and trying no to cough on someone else or get coughed on.

Phillips noted an encouraging sign: There's no negative word on the safety of either the H1N1 vaccine or the one for this year's seasonal flu. The CDC reported some mild allergic reactions, along the same lines as what is seen with the regular flu shot.
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