Schools preparing for H1N1 cases

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Putnam County schools are preparing and putting policies in place for possible outbreaks of the H1N1 flu virus.

Heather Williams, whose 12-year-old son attends Greencastle Middle School, had concerns when she heard rumors that several students in the Greencastle Community Schools district -- which includes Greencastle High and Middle schools, Ridpath and Deer Meadow elementary schools Tzouanakis Intermediate School -- had come down with H1N1.

Williams wondered why the school corporation did not notify parents.

"I'm very upset about it," she said. "I think we all need to know no matter what school it is. Our kids ride the buses together. I'm very concerned. My son doesn't just go to school; he also does extracurricular activities. It's silly to say our children haven't been exposed just because they don't all go to the same schools."

Shawn Gobert, school safety specialist for Greencastle Community Schools and principal of Greencastle Middle School, said parents were not notified because, to his knowledge, there were no absolute confirmed cases of H1N1 in the district.

"There have not been any confirmed cases that I know of," he said. "I would be hesitant to say absolutely that there have not been any."

A sample letter for schools to send to parents about confirmed cases of H1N1 is available at the Indiana State Department of Health Web site ( Gobert said even if there were confirmed cases of H1N1 in the Greencastle schools, that letter would likely not have been sent to parents.

"There are so many suggestions for what to do in different situations," he said. "Whether or not to send a letter is really a judgment call."

Gobert said, however, that school officials were assembling H1N1 information packets that would be sent home with students in the coming days. The packet will contain a consent form for parents who would like their children to receive the H1N1 vaccine through the schools.

"We're working with the (Putnam County) health department on that," Gobert said.

Williams appreciated that Greencastle did not want to cause any hysteria.

"They don't want to start a panic; I get that," she said. "But my son has asthma and he's at a higher risk. When the teenage girl was approached at a bus stop, we all got a recorded phone notification about it and I was glad we did. That was a horrible thing and we needed to know about it. I was floored that we didn't get any notification about this. We can't just shrug this off."

Gobert said parents with students in Greencastle schools have been told that if their children have any flu-like symptoms they should keep them at home.

"The local doctor's offices don't test specifically for H1N1," he said. "There could be 20 cases in our schools right now. Statistically, we probably do have students who have or have had H1N1."

Gobert said parents can inadvertently cause problems by saying their children have H1N1 when they don't really know that's the case.

"They may suspect their children have it, but they can't say for sure because the reality is they haven't been tested for it," he said. "There's nothing more parents or the schools can do. H1N1 is not really any different than seasonal flu."

Mary Scamahorn, director of New Pathways licensed daycare in Greencastle, said none of the children in the center had been diagnosed with H1N1.

"But we are licensed, so if we do have a child diagnosed we would be required to notify parents," she said. "We would send home notes."

A small number of students in the South Putnam School Corporation have been reported to have the flu, said Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt.

"But none have been confirmed as H1N1," he added.

Gobert said it would be easy to mistake seasonal or viral flu for H1N1, as they all have similar symptoms. While there have been some flu-related absences at GMS, it has not reached crisis level.

"We're at about 5 percent absenteeism, which is no cause for alarm," he said.

South Putnam students are encouraged to use good hygiene practices, such as washing hands thoroughly and covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Should a child fall ill while at school, Bernhardt said the child is isolated and immediately sent home. They are not allowed to return to school until they have been fever free without medication for 24 hours.

"That is the directive from the health department," said Bernhardt. "We are working in connection with the health department."

Students in both the South Putnam and Cloverdale school districts will be given the chance to receive the H1N1 shot. Permission slips will be sent home with every student.

"We are providing the building, but the health department is providing the shot," said Cloverdale Superintendent Carrie Milner.

Cloverdale is following the same procedure as South Putnam when a child falls ill -- sending the student home immediately.

"I think the county has done a good job informing the schools on H1N1," Milner added.

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  • The question is; do parents know the vaccine is a LIVE virous?

    -- Posted by Hazel on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 6:35 AM
  • My only grip, and this is with all illness, not just H1N1,is that the school expects us to keep our children home when they have an illness but then only allow the children 5 absent days a semester. I don't know about everyone else but I don't send my children to school sick, but I also don't take them to the Dr. every time they have a fever. Schools need to give children more than 5 absents.

    As for H1N1, It's the flu people.. Just with a specific name. I don't need a note sent home every time a child in the school falls ill.

    -- Posted by public concern on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 7:00 AM
  • I think before people begin to panic, they need to educate themselves on the H1N1 influenza. You can log onto to CDC website for updates. Common sense as a parent, if your child is ill: fever, cough, sorethroat, bodyaches, N/V or diarrhea to keep your child home. Yes, the child should be free of fever & cough prior to returning to school. Yes, the H1N1 nasal spray vaccine is live, attenuated vaccine & should only be given to healthy individuals who do not have a compromised immune system, such as a patient with asthma or diabetes. A H1N1 inactivated flu shot will also be available to those who cannot get the Nasal Spray, just like the normal influenza vaccine. Contact your family doctor or local BOARD OF HEALTH for more info, before becoming upset, educating yourself will ease your mind.

    -- Posted by Casey7780 on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 8:44 AM
  • Despite what "public concern" thinks, H1N1 is a different strain from the seasonal flu with different concerns. The major concern with schools is that is more severe amongst people under 25 than the seasonal strains.

    Hazel is also spreading ignorance and hysteria too. There are actually 2 vaccines - the nasal spray is live, but the shot is killed. And so what if its alive, its been weakened so it can't cause disease. It's too bad so many people try to spread ignorance and hysteria instead of science. For more credible information go to the CDC's website for H1N1 at

    -- Posted by boilerup on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 8:52 AM
  • Let's clear up the hysteria and ignorance in the comments. "public concern," H1N1 is not the same as the seasonal flu, it's a different strain with different concerns. Particularly, it is more severe amongst otherwise healthy people under the age of 25 than the seasonal flu.

    Hazel, there are 2 vaccines for H1N1. The shot is NOT a live virus. The nasal spray is, but so what, it's weakened to the point where it can't cause illness. For more credible information go to the CDC's website at

    -- Posted by boilerup on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 9:03 AM
  • Sorry for the double post, my first one wasn't displaying and good for Casey beating me to the punch!

    -- Posted by boilerup on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 9:06 AM
  • My son is 5 and was at a Greencastle Preschool when he came down with a fever. I took him straight to the doctor and they tested him. They called me in a few hours and he is positive for H1N1...I alerted the school asap. I just thought this to be a little ironic... It's here in Greencastle, so beware.

    He appears to be doing better today but I know there were other kids exposed,

    -- Posted by Slimkym on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 10:43 AM
  • Questions concerning the H1N1 virus, vaccine, and local vaccinations efforts can be directed to me, Doug Ehmen at the Putnam County Health Department, 765-653-5210

    -- Posted by DougEhmen on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 11:35 AM
  • Here is our experience with the flu, I'm guessing that others had had simimlar experiences. After 2 days of flu symptoms, we went to the doctor. The quick (15 minute) test confirmed it was a Influenza type A virus. That covers several strains including the normal seasonal flu and H1N1. Doctors are no longer sending out samples to test for the precise strain anymore. Mostly because it's pointless and expensive at this stage. Families can't say it is a confirmed case with the quick test. Our doctor could only say it is too early for the seasonal flu, so it's likely H1N1. That said- the flu is the flu. It's treated the same way. Our child was prescribed rest and lots of liquids- along with tylenol and/ or ibuprophen for the fever. Our child is better now after 5 days. Patients with severe health issues could get the Tamiflu (which is kind of expensive) if they catch it within 48 hours and if it is confirmed to be a Type A flu virus. My spouse took Tamiflu (which costs us $75) and shortened it to 2-3 days of symptoms. You can be the judge if it was really necessary. For those tempted to panic - treat it like the normal flu - if you think the normal flu could be life-threatening for your child, talk to your doctor about this flu. If you wouldn't be concerned about the normal flu being fatal, don't panic about this one. Be dilligent about keeping good hygiene and containing it. This should be common sense for everyone: Keep your child home if they have any sickness. Final thought - Get the seasonal flu now and get new vaccine when available - the flu isn't fun.

    -- Posted by Light in the Dark on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 12:18 PM
  • Correction on my last post - My advice is to "get the seasonal flu VACCINE now..."

    -- Posted by Light in the Dark on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 12:21 PM
  • H1N1 has been in Putnam County for well over 6 months with actual documented cases during the end of last school year. No physician's office or even the hospital here are capable of doing an H1N1 flu screen. Only the Indiana State Board of Health lab and even they aren't screening any more. It's here, it's been here and things seem to be going pretty well. Just wash your hands and be smart.

    -- Posted by scarlett39 on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 2:40 PM
  • FYI We went to Hendricks county doctor. And thouugh most who get this are fine, people are dying and the majority of those people are children.

    My doctor didn't seem to think that "it was no big deal"

    I don't think you would either if it were you that were sick

    -- Posted by Slimkym on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 4:44 PM
  • If your daily diet consistantly contains carbonated soft drinks, processed meats,any drive-thru food, or anything with High Fructose Corn Syrup, then the flu shot is for you. You stand no chance to fight this virus with your own immune system.

    Some age groups are already immune from years of vaccines and should still see there doctors if suffering symptoms. Kids who eat todays store bought and fast food should get in front of the line for the flu shot.

    -- Posted by Xgamer on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 7:40 PM
  • Actually my child is sick with a fever.. I guess I don't care.. thats what you all are twisting my word into. I am sorry I ruffled feathers.. thanks for the flames..Maybe I should I just rush her to the Dr because I think she has H1N1. What I am saying is the media has made H1N1 into something everyone is terrified of. Making parents take their children to the Dr. whenever they may have the slightest sniffle b/c they think their child has H1N1 and will die. Common sense people. Even the typical flu can kill. Thats what I meant.Be cautious. Not just because the media has made H1N1 into such a huge discussion.

    -- Posted by public concern on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 9:05 PM
  • Thank you xgamer, well said!! I don't often agree with you but this time I do!

    -- Posted by mom23boys on Thu, Oct 15, 2009, at 9:59 PM
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