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Local schools have outbreak plan in place

WILLMAR -- Minnesota has not had an identified case of swine flu yet, and state officials are not recommending any extraordinary precautions at this point.

However, that could change if cases of the flu are found in school-aged children.

The state Department of Health and State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield sent a letter to all Minnesota superintendents Monday. It offered recommendations for infection prevention and promised to provide frequent updates if the situation changes. Local schools are prepared to deal with an outbreak.

Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said the district has an emergency plan in place and can put it into action if necessary.

Kjergaard said Willmar will be vigilant about the flu, which has had its most serious outbreak in Mexico. About 30 percent of the district's students are Latino, and the population tends to be mobile.

The state recommends that schools be in contact with local health officials to report flu-like symptoms in students of staff who have been to Mexico or to parts of the United States where the virus has been identified.

"We're always on the alert for cases of influenza, any type of influenza," said Nancy Van Hauen, elementary school nurse for the Willmar Public Schools.

If the number of absentees increases significantly, the school district reports that to the state, she said.

The school district has procedures to deal with a disease outbreak, and swine flu probably would be treated like any other outbreak if it hits here, she said.

The strongest advice for parents it to watch children for sudden onset of flu-like symptoms, like high fever and body aches, she said. If someone does get sick, call the doctor, she added.

If there's a larger outbreak in a school, the district sends letters home to alert parents, she said.

Van Hauen and Kjergaard said school districts routinely work with county and state health officials when there's a disease outbreak, and they would continue to do that with a swine flu outbreak.

Precautions recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health:

? Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

? Wash hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub.

? Stay home when you are sick.