MANATEE — Local daycare providers say they’re being especially vigilant about hand-washing and institutional cleanliness, and are sending sick children home in an attempt to avoid swine flu this fall.
“We have extra soap containers, anti-bacterial lotion in each class,” reported Rebecca McCowin, director of the First For Kids Children’s Christian Center, 603 11th St. W., Bradenton. “We’re making sure children use it, trying to be as clean as we can, cleaning the toys well.”
The center cares for infants and children up to 5 years old. With small children who frequently put objects in their mouths, the pre-school makes extra efforts at thorough cleaning.
“There’s lots of washing going on,” she noted.
Officials affiliated with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the H1N1 virus, which is commonly known as swine flu, is a serious bug.
“We know that it spreads among people easily, and is affecting younger people disproportionately,” said the government’s Web site, www.Flu.gov. “We are taking it very seriously” in advance of the fall flu season.
Officials expect seasonal influenza to return this fall or winter, but can’t say how serious it might become in the United States.
“We’re focusing now on being prepared for the possibility that it will be serious,” according to the Web site.
Local public school systems also are keeping a close eye on flu cases two weeks into the new school year.
Sarasota County school district and the county health department announced they are investigating an increase in school absences that may be flu-related, officials said Friday during a news briefing.
In Manatee County, John Burns, the health department’s public information officer, said the county’s school health nurses are reporting a normal amount of flu cases, and absenteeism was within a normal range through midweek.
“Yes, H1N1 is active in the community at this time. Thankfully, it’s still in a mild form,” Burns said. “We urge people to follow the same precautions they would use normally during cold and flu season.”
Officials listed the following warning signs in children that require emergency medical attention:
n Fast breathing or trouble breathing
n Bluish or gray skin color
n Not drinking enough fluids
n Severe or persistent vomiting
n Not waking up or being socially withdrawn
n Flu-like symptoms improve but return with fever and worse cough
Daleace Burrus, director at Love Comes First Pre-School and Child Care Center, 8630 S.R. 70 E., said she is watching her charges particularly closely if they appear to be sick.
“We’re kind of watching if we notice someone sick,” she said. “We’re one of the cleanest schools in town, anyway. We always just disinfect everything, wipe everything with Clorox, it’s something we always do.”
Similar policies are in place at Manatee United Methodist Pre-School, 315 15th St. E., director Angela Harber said.
The staff is particularly alert to sick children, and a child will be sent home if they’re running a fever, have a runny nose, gooey eyes or are coughing, she said.
Marina Wolf-Schmidt and Bill Schmidt, owners of Kiddie Academy, 4225 Concept Court, Lakewood Ranch, said they have children wash their hands frequently throughout the day, while singing a song. The staff and cleaning crew frequently wipe down door handles and other surfaces, and parents who visit the facility usually head immediately to a large jar of antibacterial solution at the front desk.
“Our normal procedures have helped us,” Marina Wolf-Schmidt said.
As an example, Kiddie Academy staff follow an eight-step procedure for diapering to ensure sanitation and germ control.
Children who show any symptoms of being sick are quickly sent home.
“There is no wavering from that policy,” Bill Schmidt said.
Vaccines are not yet available for swine flu, said Ronald Cox, director of epidemiology for the Manatee County Department of Health. But should they become available, possibly as early as mid-October, the health department will provide them free, he said.