District Braces for Swine Flu at Start of School Year

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 13, 2009 - 10:55:00 AM

With school starting in less than three weeks, the Berkeley Unified School District is closely watching the federal government’s new guidelines on how to prevent swine flu from spreading and how to handle sudden breakouts. 

At an Aug. 7 news conference, federal public health and education officials cautioned children with flulike symptoms to remain isolated from their classmates and stay at home for 24 hours after their fever had reduced, instead of a total of seven days as recommended when the H1N1 influenza virus first broke in the spring. 

They outlined President Barack Obama’s four pillars of “National Framework for Response,” as surveillance, community mitigation, vaccination, and communication. 

Officials also announced that they were expecting a new vaccine for H1N1 to be ready by mid-October, and asked schools and colleges to prepare to hold vaccination clinics. 

They stressed that while the nature of the swine flu virus could change at any time, it had so far been a mild strain, similar to seasonal flu. 

School closures would not be necessary in most cases, even if a large number of swine flu cases were reported on a campus. 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said the district would treat Malcolm X Elementary School as a model for future school closures, if the need arises. 

The school district, with advice from the city’s Acting Public Health Director Dr. Janet Berreman closed down Malcolm X for a couple of days in May when the parent of two students at the school was diagnosed with swine flu. 

Coplan said the district would work with Dr. Berreman to draft guidelines for students based on what federal officials have suggested. 

He said that there had been swine flu cases in Berkeley Unified, but that the patients had gone well beyond the incubation period when the district had come to know about it. 

The California Department of Public Health website shows that so far three Berkeley residents have been hospitalized due to swine flu. 

More information on the latest federal guidelines can be found at www.flu.gov.