City, schools prepared for swine flu

May 5, 2009

By Staff

After several probable cases of swine flu were identified in King County, city and Issaquah School District officials said they were prepared if an outbreak occurs here. Officials took steps to reassure the public as the number of cases rose and officials elsewhere closed schools as a precautionary measure.No swine flu cases had been reported on the Eastside or in Issaquah by press time.

Laboratory samples from the King County cases have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing. Public Health – Seattle & King County spokeswoman Megan Coppersmith said none of the reported cases during the initial outbreak were serious.

“These symptoms appear to be pretty mild,” she said.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief of communicable disease for the public health agency, said closing schools as new cases emerge is not a practical way to confront the H1N1 flu strain, commonly known as swine flu.

“It’s not a practical way to respond when the level of severity is low,” he said during a May 4 news conference.

Local officials said they were prepared for possible cases regardless.

“In case of a pandemic, City Hall is reviewing our plans to ensure that our critical operations can stay running,” said Autumn Monahan, city public information officer.

City officials participated in a pandemic flu preparation exercise in September 2006. The event, conducted by the Seattle-King County public health agency and the University of Washington, helped officials plan for a flu emergency.

Monahan said city officials are monitoring the situation. As part of the outreach effort, she included a link to swine flu information on the city’s Web site.

“We’re urging people to stay aware for any potential updates,” she said.

Issaquah School District Superintendent Steve Rasmussen sent an e-mail to families April 30 detailing efforts to prevent swine flu infections.

“We are in regular contact with health officials; school nurses have been advising staff and students about practices to stop the spread of viruses; as in all high-flu seasons, custodians are being extra vigilant about cleaning and sanitizing facilities thoroughly; administrators are reviewing pandemic illness procedures; and, in the event of any incidents of concern at a school building, we will immediately contact Seattle and King County public health and follow health experts’ advice about how to best proceed,” he wrote.

Sara Niegowski, district director of communications, said if a student tested positive for the virus, local and national health officials would be in contact with the district.

“We have a close relationship with our parents and have heard that kids are going to the doctor to get swabbed,” she said. “It is flu season and a lot of people are being checked out, but there are no cases that we know of or have been reported.”

If a student tested positive, Niegowski said district officials would take action as recommended by Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“We are not flu experts, so we work really closely with health experts at Seattle and King County health,” she added.

King County and public health officials recommended common sense measures — such as hand washing — to prevent additional flu cases.

“We want people to act as they would during a normal flu season,” Duchin said.

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