School closed due to flu will reopen

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Arvada charter shuts down for week; two cases confirmed in Jeffco

By AJ Vicens

A Jeffco Public Schools charter school in Arvada was expected to reopen May 7 after closing for several days when one of its students tested positive for the H1N1 flu.

Lynn Setzer, spokeswoman for the district, said the student is expected to make a full recovery, but Excel Academy was closed "as a precaution." The school's 450 students were working from home.

State health officials have confirmed four cases of H1N1 in Colorado, including two cases in Jeffco, with each patient expected to fully recover. The other Jeffco case was reported to be a man in his 20s.

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said the district is working closely with the Jeffco health department to evaluate the situation.

"We'll continue to work with them to evaluate any necessity for any (school) closures," Stevenson says.

Beginning May 4, the district started tracking student absences for any dramatic increases that might be tied to the illness, "and then we'll work with the health department as to what that might mean," Stevenson said.

She added that there haven't been too many calls from concerned parents, but when they do call, the district is trying to keep them updated.

"Basically, if their child has the fever, they should keep their child home," she said. "We're not panicking, but we're ready if anything should occur."

Dr. Mark Johnson, executive director of the Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment, said common-sense precautions can prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu.

"(People should) take the precautions that we do with any flu," Johnson said. "You can do certain things to prevent it."

Things like frequent hand washing and staying home if a person is feeling flu-like symptoms can go a long way toward preventing the spread of the sickness.

Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by the influenza A (H1N1) virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The virus doesn't normally infect humans, but it can when people come in close contact with pigs, like at a fair, or with people who work near pigs.

Johnson said it's unclear how serious the illness can be, but the cases seem to be worse in Mexico than in the U.S., and he predicts that any deaths in the U.S. will be limited.

"I don't think anybody in the world knows why it seems to be so much more dangerous in Mexico than the U.S.," Johnson says. He predicts there will be more severe cases in the U.S., particularly among infants and small children who haven't been exposed to similar influenza viruses. Adults typically have been exposed to various strains of the influenza virus over the years, and although the current strain of swine flu is new, the previous exposure should help, Johnson says.

The CDC says that typically one human is reported to contract swine flu every one or two years in the U.S., but from December 2005 through February 2009, 12 cases were reported.

According to the World Health Organization's May 4 update, 985 cases of swine flu had been confirmed in 20 countries. The first and only U.S. death from the current strain came April 29, when a toddler from Mexico died in Texas. The U.S. has 226 reported laboratory-confirmed human cases, with 590 in Mexico, according to WHO. Twenty-five people have died in Mexico from the illness.

Many people are familiar with the seasonal flu, but in many cases it's not a routine illness. Roughly 36,000 people die every year in the U.S. from the seasonal flu, according to Johnson, and more than 200,000 people are admitted to a hospital with flu-like symptoms annually. That said, many people get the flu and overcome the symptoms in a matter of days, with the proper rest and medication.

It's easy to avoid the flu — both the seasonal and the swine flu — by following several recommendations that public health officials issue on a yearly basis to mostly deaf ears.

"I think people get jaded to seeing these," Johnson says, referring to the yearly flu avoidance tips like frequent hand washing and staying at home until after a sickness passes. "But this is the time to really, really use those recommendations."

Johnson's recommendations:

• Seek medical care if you have severe fever or respiratory symptoms.

• If you have a mild fever or mild flu symptoms (fever, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, chills, headache and body aches and fatigue), go home and stay there until 24 to 48 hours after the symptoms pass. If you have to go out in public, wear a surgical mask and return home as soon as possible.

Talk of the swine flu is a good reminder to:

• Wash hands frequently, using antibacterial soap. If you can't wash your hands, use up to a tablespoon of an alcohol-based hand gel frequently to keep hands clean.

• Cough and sneeze into tissues or a sleeve, not into bare hands.

• Dispose of tissues in the trash, and wash your hands immediately.

• Stay 3 to 4 feet away from people who are coughing or sneezing.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.