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Spread of flu no surprise in schools

With nearly 110 students absent – most of them likely due to flu or flu-like symptoms – the Troy City Schools seem to the first local district feeling the punch of the swine flu this year.

But its not likely to be the last.

The novel H1N1 virus – swine flu to most of us – is making its way through the county at a rapid clip. And Pike County isn’t alone.

In Mobile County, school district officials have said they can’t report exactly how many students are absent with swine flu, both from a practical standpoint and because they want to avoid causing panic and concern among parents.

Last week, Dr. Don Williams, state health officer, warned that we are “now seeing a pandemic in real time.”

Absentee rates due to the H1N1 virus could hit 40 percent in schools and 20 percent in workplaces, state health officials warned. And, given the complications caused by the likelihood that this flu season will include both the swine flu now, in the fall, and normal strains of the flu later during the typical flu season months of November, December, January and February, we could expected extended and repeated absentee issues.

If those figures hold true, we can expect more schools and school systems to experience outbreaks and absences of the H1N1 virus. As much as teachers clean and disinfect; students wash and use Germ-X; and everyone covers his or her mouth when he coughs, the virus will have a ripe ground in which to spread among students in the close quarters of schools. And that is what public health officials have been warning us about for months.

As parents and a community, we must take personal responsibility: don’t panic, but remain calm. Keep our children healthy, strong and well-nourished. Do not send them to school with a fever. Get them medical care at the first sign of flu-like symptoms. And do not allow them to return to school until they have been fever-free for at least 24-hours.

We know this will be a long, challenging flu season. Let’s brace ourselves for the months ahead.