SWINE FLU: Part 3 – H1N1 and our kids, how the school system is coping

Swine flu Part 3 — Swine flu and our kids – how are Indian River County schools dealing with the H1N1 virus?By Lisa Zahner

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — As reported in our sister publication, Vero Beach 32963, the pandemic of the H1N1 virus, also called swine flu is expected to worsen this fall due to children starting back to school and spreading the virus from child to child to parents and other family members. Based on national estimates, the swine flu could cause 700 to 800 Vero Beach residents to be hospitalized and about 130 of those to need intensive care.

So far, one of the hardest hit age groups have been people under 19 years old. The second hardest-hit group has been young adults, the age of most classroom teachers and parents.

Because H1N1 disproportionately affects children, experts worry about the system’s ability to handle a large number of pediatric patients. Many facilities do not typically stock medical equipment such as breathing tubes and intravenous tubes for children.

“Kids come in all shapes and sizes,” said Joseph L. Wright of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “What could be real disaster is if you don’t have equipment to fit the kid in front of you.”

The hospital’s Whisman said the Indian River Medical Center has four pediatric beds normally, but could handle up to 10 pediatric flu victims if needed.

“If a child was critically ill or potentially critically ill we would transfer him or her to a pediatric center like Arnold Palmer’s Children’s Hospital in Orlando or St. Mary’s in West Palm Beach,” Whisman said.

So how is the Indian River School District preparing to deal with the pandemic? Are some schools already feeling the effects of swine flu to a greater extent than others? How many students were out last week with swine flu?

Incredibly, the school district does not seem to have much hard data, and was unresponsive to our requests for information. Vero Beach 32963 was told, in fact, that its reporter could not speak directly to the official who is in charge of coordinating health efforts for the district, that all information had to come through Public Information Officer Patty Vasquez.

When we requested absentee numbers of students and teachers out with the flu, we were told in an email by Vasquez that “we don’t collect numbers for students that are absent due to flu or flu-like symptoms because we don’t require parents to tell us why they are being kept home. We do keep track of students who are sent home from school with “flu-like” symptoms.”

“The stats that we do collect would not give you any kind of picture of the number of school age children with the flu, because we don’t know for sure whether or not they actually have the flu,” she said. “They are sent home with flu-like symptoms, based upon an assessment by our Health Assistants.”

When asked for the number of children being sent home sick, the figure finally provided was “less than one percent” of the public school enrollment.

Vasquez said each school sends figures on gross absenteeism and the numbers of students and teachers sent home sick to the Health Department, but when asked whether or not each principal reviews the figures daily or whether School Superintendent Dr. Harry LaCava reviews district-wide figures daily, Vasquez replied:

“Principals are staying on top of the situations in their schools. Dr. La Cava does not review the numbers daily. He has staff to do that.”For more information about what measures would be taken in the schools and in the community should the H1N1 pandemic get worse this fall, check back on Friday for Part 4 of the story.

SWINE FLU: Part 1 – H1N1 already stressing the healthcare system

SWINE FLU: Part 2 – Employers “play doctor,” employees in tough spot

SWINE FLU: Part 4 – What happens if the H1N1 pandemic gets worse?

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