Pinellas Schools flu briefing
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08/24/09 Lindsey Kratochwill
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

The Pinellas County School District and Health Department organized a briefing today at High Point Elementary about efforts to prepare and respond to any concerns about H1N1 at schools. School opens tomorrow in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.

So far the effect of H1N1 on Pinellas County has amounted to one death earlier this month and 5 reported or suspected hospitalizations. Those most susceptible to the virus include children under 5, pregnant women and adults with underlying chronic diseases, such as diabetes. Dr. Claude Dharamraj, director of the Pinellas County Health Department described the possibility of contracting the regular flu as well as the H1N1 virus.

According to Pinellas County School’s Superintendent Dr. Julie Janssen, at a basic level, the best way to avoid contracting the virus is to teach students good hygiene.

Dr. Dharamraj said that the safest option is to get vaccinated. The regular flu vaccine will be available at the end of the month and the H1N1 vaccine will be available in October, pending clinical trials.

If a student does show signs of the flu, such as fever or sore throat, they should stay home from school to avoid spreading to other students. However, according to Dr. Dharamaj, staying home from school does not mean they should go straight to the doctor.

The Pinellas County school district will be looking at the attendance of schools to gauge the increases and decreases in absences. They will not, however, be changing the exam exemption policy in the same way Hillsborough County did. Attendance will be looked at, but Dr. Janssen says that they are working on altering their policy.

Last year some schools closed due to the H1N1 virus. This year, Dr. Dharamraj said, they will keep schools open unless it is absolutely necessary to close them.

With $130,000 in stimulus funding from the Department of Health, the Pinellas County Health Department is beginning a campaign to vaccinate a goal of up to 38,000 students in school-based clinics.

For more information about H1N1 or the regular flu, you can go to www.flu.gov. The Pinellas County Health Department’s info line is available 24 hours a day at 727 824 6964 or the Florida department of health from 8am to 8pm at 877 352 3581.

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