East Valley school districts are preparing for the second wave of the H1N1 flu, expected to begin around the end of August. Up to a quarter of Maricopa County residents, mainly children, could get this newest strain of the flu, formerly known as swine flu.
District officials have met with the Maricopa County Health Department to keep abreast of the latest information on the H1N1 flu, which started appearing in April. In Arizona, the H1N1 flu has caused more than 1,000 confirmed cases and 18 deaths.
Two schools in the Chandler Unified School District canceled classes in May after a student at each campus was confirmed to have H1N1. The closures, originally announced to be a week, ended up being just two days.
The county health department's director, Dr. Bob England, has said he does not plan to recommend school closures in the future for H1N1.
School districts are sharing tips with parents, teachers and staff by sending out letters with students and posting information on district Web sites.
Proper hygiene is being stressed, asking students and staff to cough and sneeze into their elbows instead of their hands and to practice good hand-washing habits.
Parents are also being asked to keep their kids home when they are sick, and to keep them home until 24 hours after any symptoms and fever have passed.
Officials are also asking parents to consider having their children receive seasonal flu vaccines in September. An H1N1 vaccine might not be available until November.
District officials have formed committees and put together plans on how they plan to handle the impending flu pandemic.
The Gilbert Unified School District governing board listened to a study session last week on the district's plans, which need to be flexible and ready for anything, said Lorie Miller, the district's director of health services.
"This doesn't fall within the typical flu plan," Miller said. "It likes young people. Our goal is to keep infection low and not have people panic."
The Gilbert district has registered nurses at all but two of its school campuses, which is a plus, she said.
Gilbert board member Helen Hollands asked district officials if they could suspend any perfect attendance incentives to not encourage sick students to come to school.
The Mesa Unified School District is planning roving clinics to provide regular seasonal flu shots. Right now, the district is figuring out which schools will participate, district spokeswoman Kathy Bareiss said.
Letters and permission slips will go home to parents in a few weeks. Children who return the permission slips will be able to receive a free, seasonal flu shot at their school.
The district is also working with the Mesa Fire Department to hold free flu shot clinics in late September or early October, some with evening hours.
Late last month the district set up a Web site, www2.mpsaz.org/beprepared, that includes information on H1N1 as it becomes available. There are resources for parents and staff, including links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The district will not require staff or students to get flu shots, but "we will encourage - as other health agencies are - that people get a flu shot. But obviously, this is a choice," Bareiss said.
The Higley Unified School District posted new information on its Web site Friday, including information on signs and symptoms, the differences between H1N1 and the seasonal flu, and caring for someone sick with the flu.
District spokeswoman Sara Bresnahan said Higley will track absentee rates and will report abnormal rates to the county health department.
For more information on the H1N1 flu virus, visit www.wearepublichealth.org.