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Absences down at local schools
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Editor's note: There is a correction to this story, which erroneously said H1N1 is deadlier in nearly half the cases. It should have said that nearly half of those who die from H1N1 had no underlying medical conditions.  The News regrets the error.



Absences are down at Bryan County Schools this week, but school administrators said they’re keeping their guard up as worries over the H1N1 virus spread.

"I have children in the school system, we all do," said Assistant Superintendent Billy McGrath, who is head of student services and the system’s point man for dealing with the illness. "We’re staying on it. These are our children too."

McGrath urges parents to make sure kids who show symptoms of flu like illness get the proper care and stay home until they’re fever free -- and off fever reducing medication -- for at least 24 hours.

And school officials have urged prevention as well, while noting nurses and faculty members have worked both to make sure the schools are clean and educate parents on what they need to do to protect their kids.

"We want to continue to send the message out to make sure your kids know to keep their hands clean and use good health habits," McGrath said. "Wash with soap and water, don’t wipe your face with your hands, and sneeze into elbows."

Everyone acknowledges the H1N1 virus is in the area, but there are disagreements about how dangerous it is and what to do about it.

Rachael Bell, a health therapist who has been a critic of Bryan County schools, said the difference between H1N1 and seasonal flu are stark.

"Often we hear that H1N1 and seasonal flu are pretty much the same, which misleads people into a false sense of security," she said.

She points to research she said shows it is more easily passed from person to person, while nearly half of those who die from H1N1 had no underlying medical conditions. And last week, the Washington Post reported the number of kids dying from swine flu has jumped sharply. The Oct. 10 story reported that there were 76 fatalities nationally among kids under 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"Studies on H1N1 have shown it is more easily transmissible, that 45 percent of those who die have no underlyinig medical conditions and that fever is not present in up to 40 percent of the cases, according to the CDC," she said.

Bell also questions whether the drop in absences in local schools is simply part of a flu wave, which last around four to six weeks for seasonal flu alone.

"Some would call the last outbreak a peak of one wave," she said. "I am curious to see if there will be another one. I hope not."

The numbers have certainly dropped since earlier this month, when as many as 14-15 percent of the students at Richmond Hill Middle School were absent for one reason or another.

"Looking from last week to (Monday) the numbers are down about 4-5 percent across the board," McGrath said, though noting that the percentage of students missing absences in North Bryan schools have stayed well under the required 10 percent range that triggered a report to state health officials.

He said the rising number of deaths attributed to H1N1 around the country is alarming, but the schools are doing what they can to cope with the virus.

"We’re concerned just like everybody else across the nation," he said. "But we’re staying on it with our nurses and staff. They’re making sure facilities are clean at all time. They stay with children to make sure they’re washing their hands, and that they’re carrying these health habits over at home. And if they do get the symptoms they need to make sure they are well before they come back to school."

-Read more in the Bryan County News.

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