Swine flu: Kent sees its first case

  • BY Wire Service
  • Monday, May 4, 2009 9:50pm
  • News

Two schools in the Des Moines area saw brief closures this week as a result of swine-flu suspicions, and in Kent, health officials were evaluating the diagnosis of a teenage boy with the virus.

Two schools in Des Moines - Midway Elementary, in the Des Moines School District and Woodmont K-8 in the Federal Way District - were among seven in the Puget Sound region that officials closed over the last several days because each had a suspected case of swine flu. But both had been slated to reopen Tuesday.

County public health department and Highline School District officials closed Midway Elementary School in Des Moines on Monday after a 9-year-old girl tested positive for flu at a health-care clinic.

Federal Way School District officials had closed Woodmont K-8 School Friday because a student was in school Thursday with the flu.

And over the weekend, Seattle and King County Public Health officials also reported a 15-year-old Kent boy had been diagnosed Saturday with a probable swine-flu case. But as of Monday morning, the Kent School District had not received any reports from the county about whether the boy attended a district school, spokeswoman Becky Hanks said.

As of Monday, there were no other reports of possible cases in Kent.

Thirty-five probable cases of the flu had been reported in the state, as of Sunday, according to the state Department of Health, with 22 of them in King County. Health officials have sent laboratory samples from the cases to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for final confirmation.

The reopening of local public schools comes on the heels of a change in policy by public health officials. On Sunday, King County Public Health stopped recommending school closures because the virus has quickly become more widespread, but its symptoms are relatively mild.

Rather than closing schools, county public health officials are now recommending:

• Parents carefully check their children before school for signs and symptoms of the flu. If symptoms are present, they should not send their children to school.

• Schools should monitor children and conduct symptom checks. If they find children with symptoms of the flu, those children should be sent home.

“We know that the H1N1 virus is circulating widely and the disease has proven to be relatively mild, so we believe that many cases are not being formally diagnosed,” said Dr. David Fleming, director for Seattle and King County Public Health, in a county media release Sunday. “We need to find new ways to reduce infections besides focusing on diagnosed, probable cases. We will no longer recommend school closure when we have just one or two probable cases in a school.”

Fleming said the state has more than 100 specimens to test for probable cases of the swine flu and those results probably will not be recorded until this week. Thirty-five of the 223 specimens tested so far by the state will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control for further testing.

Similar to school officials, operators at daycare centers are highly concerned about the flu outbreak.

The owners of Espie’s Daycare in Kent are trying to provide as much information as they can about the swine flu to children and parents.

“We always do the standard washing of hands before snacks and meals, but since the news came out, we have more story time about germs,” said Orlando Sapien, co-owner of Espie’s Daycare, in a phone interview Friday. “We also posted a (flu prevention) video on our Web site that parents can watch at home with their kids.”

Sapien said the parents of children at the daycare were aware that the swine flu virus had struck King County.

“It is scary,” Sapien said. “We’re in a day-care setting and like a school the germs can spread fast. Kids slip up and do not remember to cover their sneeze in their arm and not their hands.”

All of the efforts at Kent schools remain on prevention at this point, said Merri Rieger, assistant superintendent of the Kent School District. The district sent a letter home with students Friday about swine-flu symptoms and preventative steps to help avoid a flu outbreak.

If a flu case strikes a Kent school, school-district staff would follow protocol and coordinate any decisions regarding closures with the county health department.

“We would want to make sure the other students, staff and parents at the school are safe,” Rieger said.

Rieger said county health department officials have not given any indication to school officials about the likelihood of a flu outbreak in Kent.

“To my knowledge, they are not saying ‘watch out or you are going to get a wave of it,’” Rieger said.

Public information officers with the city of Kent administration office, police and fire departments met Friday to discuss steps the city might take if a flu outbreak strikes Kent.

“Our plans are in place where we can keep City Hall open should it elevate to a widespread situation,” said Michelle Witham, city public affairs manager.

Witham said the public information officers from Kent and other jurisdictions throughout the county will have as many as three conference calls per week with county health department officials to stay informed on the swine-flu cases and the impact throughout the region.

“We’re hopeful that all of our families, staff, students and the community escape this,” Rieger said.

Prevention tips

The state Department of Health recommends the following precautions:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it

• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people

• If you get sick, stay home and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth

• Symptoms: Fever of more than 100 degrees, cough, sore throat, fatigue, lack of appetite, runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

Swine-flu updates

King County information line: 1-877-903-5464, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Kent School District: www.kent.k12.wa.us

City of Kent: www.ci.kent.wa.us

King County: www.kingcounty.gov/health/swineflu

State: www.doh.wa.gov/swineflu/default.htm

Federal: www.cdc.gov


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