Swine flu suspected in Seattle; Kent is bracing

In light of the first cases of swine flu hitting King County thisweek, Kent School District officials sent home letters with students Friday from Superintendent Barbara Grohe about swine-flu symptoms and preventative steps to help avoid a flu outbreak.

District officials decided Thursday to issue the letter in response to the probable cases of swine flu identified in the state by public-health officials. As of Friday, no cases had been reported in Kent, although there were 14 reported in the state, 11 of them in King County.

“Now that swine flu is likely in King County, we expect to see more infections, but it’s too early to say how severe the illnesses will be,” said Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Seattle and King County Public Health, in a county media release.

In Kent, school officials were staying on top of the alerts.

“This is something to be taken seriously,” said Becky Hanks, spokeswoman for the Kent School District, in a Thursday phone interview. “Students need to stay home if they are sick.”

If swine flu does strike a Kent student, district officials will consult with the King County Health Department about any school closures, Hanks said.

The letter from the Kent School District describes steps such as hand washing, coughing into a sleeve and other preventative measures parents and students can take to stay healthy and avoid spreading germs. The letter will be in English, Spanish, Russian and Punjabi because of the numerous languages spoken by students and their parents. The letter also is on the school district’s Web site.

Symptoms of swine flu include fever, cough and sore throat. In addition, fatigue, lack of appetite, runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea have been reported, according to the state Department of Health.

District officials are in contact with Kent Fire Department emergency management leaders as well as Seattle and King County public health officials in an effort to keep on top of any potential flu cases at Kent schools.

“We don’t want people to panic,” Hanks said. “But on any emergency we work with the local Kent fire management to make decisions.”

Kent city officials are taking early steps to address the potential flu outbreak as well.

“We are taking our lead from Seattle and King County Public Health,” said Michelle Witham, city public affairs manager. “Our responsibility right now is to keep the public informed.”

The city Web site has been updated with information and links about the virus, Witham said.

Witham will meet Friday with Kyle Ohashi, the Kent Fire spokesman, and Paul Petersen, the Kent Police spokesman, to discuss other steps the city may need to take, should residents here come down with the virus.

“If we get any cases, we have to be in touch with the county department of health,” Witham said.

Mary Newell, nurse facilitator for the school district, said Thursday that numerous parents were calling school nurses to report that a student seated next to their child had a cold.

Teachers are instructed to send any student who displays signs of illness to the school nurse, Newell said.

“We’ll check them for a fever and if they show any signs of a cold or flu, we’ll call the parents,” Newell said.

More students than normal were absent from schools on Thursday.

“We’re having more parents calling in and keeping their children home,” said Newell, who did not have specific numbers of absent students as of Thursday morning.

If the absentee rate reaches 10 percent of the school district’s enrollment, district officials must notify the county health department.

There were no plans, as of Thursday, to cancel any athletic events or other school activities, Hanks said.

“That would be done after a thoughtful process and would not be an independent decision,” Hanks said. “We would work in consultation with King County Public Health.”

Swine flu is a virus normally found in pigs, according to the state Department of Health. The current virus is a strain of flu that can infect people. The virus can be transmitted from person to person through coughs and sneezes that spread germs through the air and onto surfaces that other people may touch.

Swine-flu information

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: http://www.cdc.gov

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