MANATEE — As the new school year quickly approaches, local authorities want the public to know they are ready for what health officials say may be the next wave of swine flu.
Representatives from the Manatee County School District, the Manatee County Health Department and Manatee County Emergency Management met Thursday to discuss preparations. Sarasota County officials held a similar meeting to announce plans.
“We are here to promote healthy habits that lessen the spread,” Manatee health department spokesman John Burns said during a news conference.
“Protecting the health of school children and our community requires a three-way partnership,” said Dr. Marc J. Yacht, acting director of the health department. “As we move into the new school year, we want to build awareness of the current status of the H1N1 flu virus.”
The new school year begins Monday in the Manatee and Sarasota districts.
The H1N1 strain of influenza is commonly called swine flu.
Education at home, in school and throughout the community is vital to preventing the spread of the flu, Burns said.
The swine flu has the same symptoms as the seasonal flu that has circulated for years, Burns said.
They include a fever higher than 100 degrees, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Diarrhea and vomiting also have been reported.
To reduce the spread of either flu, Burns said parents should keep sick children at home.
“Stay at home until 24 hours after the fever has resolved,” he said.
In Sarasota County, officials encouraged parents to know what they’ll do if their child exhibits flu symptoms.
“It is important that parents keep their children home from school if they become ill. This means that working parents should have a plan for child care,” said Dr. William Heymann, Sarasota County Health Department’s medical director.
Other tips to avoid the spread: Get a seasonal flu shot and remember proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
“Sneeze into a Kleenex or the crook of your arm,” Burns said.
Health officials also want parents to remind their children not to share personal items and to tell them to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
“Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ as you do it,” he said.
Manatee school district Risk Manager Forrest Branscomb encourages parents to send their kids to school with hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
In case they can’t, it will be available throughout the school, he said.
The Manatee school district has had a pandemic preparedness plan in place for the past few years and it was put into practice during the swine flu response this past May, according to district spokeswoman Margi Nanney.
The Sarasota school district and health department have worked together to train school health room staff, nurses and other school staff on ways to combat the virus.
Preparations for a vaccine that will protect against swine flu are under way, yet the vaccine will not be available for several months.
To prevent spreading the flu at school, administrators in both counties will continue to stress the importance of following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
There will also be increased vigilance by school staff to identify students exhibiting flu-like symptoms, Branscomb said.
Symptomatic children will be sent to the school’s clinic for evaluation by a school nurse who will determine if a child should be isolated.
Other efforts include custodians increasing the focus and frequency of cleaning commonly touched areas such as railings, doorknobs and light switches, Branscomb said.
In the meantime, local officials say they will continue to monitor and evaluate the swine flu pandemic in the community and will determine if any additional action is warranted.