Swine flu hits Des Moines schools; Kent officials watchful

Kent School District officials continue to take precautions as the number of probable swine-flu cases slowly grows in King County and the state.

As of Friday, two schools in Des Moines were among the seven schools in the Puget Sound region that had closed because of a student diagnosed with a possible case of the swine flu.

“It heightens our concern,” said Merri Rieger, assistant superintendent of the Kent School District about the school closures in other districts, in a phone interview Friday. “We have not had any reports of cases.”

County public health department and Highline School District officials closed Midway Elementary School in Des Moines starting Monday through next week after a 9-year-old girl tested positive for flu at a health-care clinic. Federal Way School District officials closed Woodmont K-8 School Friday in Des Moines because a student was in school Thursday with the flu.

Sixteen probable cases of the swine flu had been reported in the state, as of Friday afternoon, according to the state Department of Health. Eleven probable cases were reported in King County. Health officials have sent laboratory samples from the cases to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for final confirmation.

“We always recommend that parents keep children at home if they are sick,” said Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Seattle and King County Public Health, in a county media conference Friday in Seattle. “We need to emphasize that. If a child has a fever, keep the child out of school.”

“As this becomes more common in the county, more children will become sick,” Fleming said. “Then we will have a backlog of test results.”

Fleming said the state has more than 100 specimens to test for probable cases of the swine flu and those results probably will not be recorded until the end of the weekend. Sixteen of the 115 specimens tested so far by the state will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control for further testing.

Similar to school officials, operators at daycare centers are highly concerned about the flu outbreak.

The owners of Espie’s Daycare in Kent are trying to provide as much information as they can about the swine flu to children and parents.

“We always do the standard washing of hands before snacks and meals, but since the news came out, we have more story time about germs,” said Orlando Sapien, co-owner of Espie’s Daycare, in a phone interview Friday. “We also posted a (flu prevention) video on our Web site that parents can watch at home with their kids.”

Sapien said the parents of children at the daycare were aware that the swine flu virus had struck King County.

“It is scary,” Sapien said. “We’re in a day-care setting and like a school the germs can spread fast. Kids slip up and do not remember to cover their sneeze in their arm and not their hands.”

All of the efforts at Kent schools remain on prevention at this point, Rieger said. The district sent a letter home with students Friday about swine-flu symptoms and preventative steps to help avoid a flu outbreak.

If a flu case strikes a Kent school, school-district staff would follow protocol and coordinate any decisions regarding closures with the county health department.

“We would want to make sure the other students, staff and parents at the school are safe,” Rieger said.

Rieger said county health department officials have not given any indication to school officials about the likelihood of a flu outbreak in Kent.

“To my knowledge, they are not saying ‘watch out or you are going to get a wave of it,'” Rieger said.

Public information officers with the city of Kent administration office, police and fire departments met Friday to discuss steps the city might take if a flu outbreak strikes Kent.

“Our plans are in place where we can keep City Hall open should it elevate to a widespread situation,” said Michelle Witham, city public affairs manager.

Witham said the public information officers from Kent and other jurisdictions throughout the county will have as many as three conference calls per week with county health department officials to stay informed on the swine-flu cases and the impact throughout the region.

“We’re hopeful that all of our families, staff, students and the community escape this,” Rieger said.

Prevention tips

The state Department of Health recommends the following precautions:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it

• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people

• If you get sick, stay home and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth

• Symptoms: Fever of more than 100 degrees, cough, sore throat, fatigue, lack of appetite, runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea

Swine-flu updates

King County information line: 1-877-903-5464, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Kent School District: www.kent.k12.wa.us

City of Kent: www.ci.kent.wa.us

King County: www.kingcounty.gov/health/swineflu

State: www.doh.wa.gov/swineflu/default.htm

Federal: www.cdc.gov

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