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Bemidji Area Schools prepare for H1N1

A coach issues a time out during a game. A player grabs a water bottle from the bench, squirts a drink, and passes it on to another teammate.

From sharing water bottles and drinking fountains to giving hugs and high-fives, it's hard not to spread germs in school.

What measures will schools have to take to stop the spread of H1N1 flu virus?

Bemidji Area Schools District school nurse Sue Nokleby offered answers to this question at a school board meeting Monday night.

"We're focusing on prevention and containment," said Nokleby. "We want to minimize the spread of the virus."

H1N1 was first reported in the Bemidji area this summer and is expected to resurface this flu season. Last week, state health officials had updated the flu distribution level as "widespread" in Minnesota, said Nokleby.

"Youth have been identified as a high risk because they have no immunity," she said. "Schools are a perfect environment because kids are clustered together along with staff."

Local health officials are not testing people with H1N1 symptoms for the virus, unless they show significant health problems. If you show symptoms of the virus, it is assumed you have it, said Nokleby.

The main symptom of H1N1 is a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The H1N1 flu virus has also been reported to last longer than the seasonal flu, spanning from five to seven days.

"The virus buries itself deep into the lung tissues, making it harder to get rid of," Nokleby said.

The district will be offering families a seasonal flu shot clinic this year. Nokleby recommends families be immunized for the seasonal flu shot early to allow for more time before receiving the H1N1 flu shot.

"There are two different flu shots being offered," she said. "It's important to space the two shots for health reasons."

The H1N1 flu vaccine is expected to be available in mid- to late October.

Nokleby gave the following suggestions for schools and parents:

- Wash hands several times a day using soap and warm water for 15-20 seconds.

- The flu can be spread from coughs or sneezes. Make sure tissues and hand sanitizer are available. Students and staff should cover their mouths when coughing and use a tissue when sneezing or blowing their noses.

- Staff and students (especially those with medical conditions and anyone else who wants to lower risk of getting the flu) should get the flu shot. No vaccinations will be given to students without written permission. School-aged students are near the top of the priority for the H1N1 vaccine.

- Closure of individual schools in the event of an outbreak has not proven an effective way of stopping the flu, but that decision should be made by the appropriate school officials based on other considerations.

- All students and staff should avoid sharing glasses, water bottles, drinks, spoons, forks, etc.

- Children should be kept home if they have a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Parents should plan for their children if they are sick. They may be out of school for up to a week if ill.

- If a child becomes ill at school with a fever and a cough or sore throat, a mask will be put on him or her and a parent will be called to pick him or her up immediately.

- Parents should not give a child aspirin.

- Parents who call to excuse their child for being sick should let the school know what symptoms he or she experiencing.

- Students will not be allowed to use the health office phones to help prevent the spread of infection.

The number of hand sanitizers has increased in buildings and more information is now included on the Bemidji Area Schools Web site.

"I can't stress enough of washing your hands and covering your cough," said Nokleby. "Northern Elementary School has this fabulous song on how to cover your cough. I'd like to get all the schools to do the same."

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