Back to school with swine flu

WAKE COUNTY Hundreds of schools will open around the Triangle next week under crowded conditions ripe for the H1N1 virus.

The outbreak of H1N1 came at the end of the last school year.

Where it did make its way into a couple of the nation's schools, it spread fast and closed some of the schools.

That's something school officials said they hope to avoid this coming school year.

Broughton Principal Steve Mares said he and his staff will be welcoming almost 2,300 students to the school next week.

At a faculty meeting Monday, the emphasis was on attendance, but there was a caveat for the H1N1 flu.

"We want our kids in the classroom engaged in the lesson," Mares said. "But the reality is, as we discussed, if the student is sick we want them to stay home. They've got to stay home."

State and local health officials said that's what they are stressing to school leaders.

They said even the best in hygiene practices will likely not prevent all cases of flu. So keeping those cases away from schools will be the best way to prevent an outbreak.

Now officials said they hope to impress that upon parents.

"When you're sick with a fever stay home, first thing," Wake Health Director Dr. Peter Morris said. "Within the next 24 hours it will declare itself as an influenza-like illness or not. If it's not, 24 hours after fever return to school."

That didn't happen at a number of schools last year that were exposed to H1N1.

"This year, hopefully, that won't happen now that we know a little bit more about it, and with the vaccination coming out, supposedly, sometime soon," Mares said.

But health officials are also facing a big shortage in the initial delivery of the swine flu vaccine.

With school set to start, county health officials said school-aged kids would be a few of the first in line.

"It will have to go by priority," Community Health Director Sue Lynn Ledford said.

The priority is set by the CDC and followed by state and local health departments.

The shot is given at the health department, hospital or doctors office in two separate doses, but some worry they will see a shortage as manufactures cite delays.

It's still unclear how many doses the state and Wake County will get.

The new H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available in September. Health officials hope that most people can be vaccinated by late fall to early winter.

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