A local health official told The Dagger on Friday that there are currently no confirmed cases of H1N1 in school-aged children in Harford County being reported from the State Health Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Kurt Seetoo, an epidemiologist with the Harford County Health Department said that while some positive tests could go unreported to the State from private labs, local reports of H1N1 in schools are coming from rapid flu tests which do not distinguish between seasonal and H1N1 flu. He said that doctors may be calling these “probable cases” which some parents are then reporting to the schools as H1N1.
Seetoo said that positive results from the rapid flu test are not reportable and he did not have an estimate on their number. He said that H1N1 testing was currently being done only on hospitalized patients or as part of an identified outbreak. But despite the lack of confirmation of H1N1 in school-aged children, Seetoo said “we are suspecting that it is” H1N1, because H1N1 is the primary flu virus currently in circulation. He said that the H1N1 flu overall “seems to be a mild one”, with people recovering at home rather than going to the hospital.
In Harford County Public Schools, Manager of Communications Teri Kranefeld said visits to school nurses are being monitored for increases in what health officials call “influenza-like illness” (ILI). The ILI designation does not distinguish between seasonal or H1N1 flu, but is identified by symptoms of a fever of 100 degrees F or higher and a cough or sore throat.
Kranefeld said that ILI figures are being reported daily to the Harford County Health Department, which is also monitoring daily changes in the absentee rate. Parents at Aberdeen MS, Meadowvale ES, Halls Crossroads ES and Roye Williams ES have been notified by letter of a high incidence of ILI at their schools. Letters also went home to parents at Fallston High School on Friday.
Kranefeld said students who are being sent home sick are wearing masks while they await the arrival of a parent. Kranefeld also said the school system uses a germicidal cleanser during normal operations but that extra wipe downs would be done to doorknobs and other surfaces where ILI is present.
Seetoo reviews the daily reports from schools for the Harford County Health Department. He said that five or more visits to the school nurse in one day with reported symptoms of ILI and a doubling of the baseline absentee rate at a particular school were considered benchmarks for an outbreak, triggering the letters to parents.
HCPS released the following data on last week’s absentee rates for the days surrounding the identification of outbreaks at each school:
Aberdeen Middle: Tues. 12.7%, Wed. 10.3%, Thurs. 10.8%
Meadowvale: Tues. 8.5%, Wed. 9.7%, Thurs. 9.7%
Halls Crossroads: Tues. 7.6%, Wed. 11.8%, Thurs. 11.3%
Roye Williams: Tues. 8.8%, Wed. 8.4%, Thurs. 13.8%
Fallston High School 11.2% Thursday
Seetoo said that the Harford County Health Department is offering to confirm cases of H1N1 virus when an outbreak occurs, in order to track trends. Such tests involve a pharyngeal swab, which he described as a long Q-tip through the nose, which would only be given to students with parental consent. He said that school closures would be decided jointly by the Harford County Health Department and Harford County Public Schools, but that they would try not to close schools unless absences affected a school’s ability to function.
The first batch of H1N1 vaccine arrived in Harford County last week and went to St. Margaret’s Schools where there was an immediate need, but Seetoo said there was no word as of last Wednesday when the next batch would arrive or how much would be received at any given time. He said decisions about school vaccination programs would be based on availability and need. In addition to the H1N1 mist, he said injectable versions of the vaccine would be available for students with asthma and others who should not receive the live virus from the mist. That would include students who present with a fever at the time of vaccination or those with egg allergies.
Here’s a copy of the letter to parents sent jointly by Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Tomback: