AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine schools no longer need make plans to close in the event of a case of the H1N1 “swine” flu in a student or staff member. Revised recommendations on Tuesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call instead for “keeping all students, faculty and staff with symptoms of influenza out of schools and child care facilities during their period of illness and recuperation, when they are potentially infectious to others.”
In accordance with the federal guidelines, Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron advised the Kennebunk Elementary School to reopen today, a day earlier than previously recommended. The school was closed last Thursday for an anticipated seven days after a student was found to have a probable case of H1N1. Subsequent tests confirmed the case.
No other schools in Maine have closed because of the H1N1 influenza, but a day care center in Kennebunk shut its doors for a few days when a youngster was thought to be sick with the virus. That child later was found not to have the H1N1 virus, and the day care center reopened Monday.
The U.S. CDC Web site says the new recommendation reflects the lower-than-expected severity of H1N1 cases in this country.
“Most U.S. cases have not been severe and are comparable in severity to seasonal influenza,” the site says. The guidance says students, faculty and staff who appear to have influenzalike illness at arrival or who become ill during the school day should be isolated promptly in a room away from other students and sent home as soon as possible.
“We will not be recommending to other schools that they close if and when the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention identifies probable cases of H1N1 in students or staff,” Gendron said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “However, we are not out of the woods. Students will continue to contract this flu. We need to be vigilant about the things we know we can do to help prevent the spread: coughing and sneezing into our sleeves or a tissue; washing hands frequently; and staying home if we are sick.”
Gendron pointed out that, as is the case with seasonal flu and other infectious disease outbreaks, if high absenteeism because of H1N1 cases interferes with a school’s ability to function, closure should be considered.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine CDC, echoed Gendron’s caution.
“The focus should be on family and staff,” Mills said. “We need to encourage them to self-monitor for symptoms and, when they are exhibited, exclude themselves from school or work. We all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other.”
She said anyone with flu symptoms such as fever, coughing and a sore throat should stay home at least 24 hours after symptoms have disappeared.
The federal guidelines also specify that ill children should not attend alternative child care or congregate in community settings.
The Maine CDC continues to test possible cases of H1N1. No new cases were identified on Monday or Tuesday. Totals as of Tuesday were two adults in Kennebec County, three adults and one youth in York County, and one youth in Penobscot County. All seven individuals are recovering and none has been hospitalized.
Nationally, Texas health officials on Tuesday confirmed the first death of a United States resident with swine flu.
Few details were released, but health officials say a woman in her 30s who lived in Cameron County along the U.S.-Mexico border died earlier this week. Health officials said the woman had other, chronic health problems.
Last week, a boy from Mexico City died at a Houston hospital, marking the first swine flu death in the United States.
In Maine, Mills reiterated the need for people to stay informed, be prepared, and practice proper “respiratory hygiene,” including the following steps:
1) Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.
2) Wash hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective.
3) Avoid close contact with sick people.
4) If you get sick, stay home from work or school for seven days and limit contact with others to avoid infecting them.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
On the Web:
New U.S. CDC guidelines for schools: www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/K12_dismissal.htm
Maine Department of Education: www.maine.gov/education/h1n1/
Maine CDC: www.mainepublichealth.gov
U.S. CDC: www.pandemicflu.gov