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Letter on absenteeism sent to parents of Williamsport school students

It is unknown if the absences were due to H1N1 flu

It is unknown if the absences were due to H1N1 flu

September 23, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

WILLIAMSPORT -- The parents of students at Williamsport Elementary School this week received a letter from school officials warning of an increased rate of absenteeism due to flu-like symptoms, Washington County Public Schools spokesman Richard Wright said Wednesday.

Forty-eight of the school's students were listed as absent Monday, the day the letter was sent home with students, Wright said. That number dropped to 38 Wednesday.

Williamsport Elementary has 501 students, according to the school's Web site.

Wright said lab results were unavailable to confirm whether the absences were linked to H1N1 flu, which also is known as swine flu.

"Most physicians are assuming it's swine flu if someone gets sick," Wright said. "As far as it being H1N1, we have no way of knowing."

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Wright said he didn't have the exact figures, but 8 percent of the students at Springfield Middle School were absent Monday.

There are 815 students at Springfield Middle, according to the school's Web site. An absentee rate of 8 percent would be about 65 students.

Wright said teachers are trying to prevent the spread of the virus by teaching children proper hygiene and hand-washing techniques. Classrooms, multi-purpose rooms and restrooms are being disinfected on a daily basis, Wright said.

"We are spraying, or misting, the disinfectant every other day and wiping down on the other days," Wright wrote Wednesday in an e-mail. "The cleaning solution is designed to mist and air dry. We are wiping two days per week to avoid buildup of the solution on the desks."

Each school also has been equipped with several hand-sanitizing stations, Wright said.

Rod MacRae, spokesman for the Washington County Health Department, said officials generally stop tracking the number of cases of a particular illness after it becomes widespread like H1N1 flu.

He said proper hand-washing should be enough to help prevent the spread of the virus. People should wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice, he said. If possible, people should use paper towels to turn off the water after washing up in public areas, he said.

MacRae said the health department expects to receive vaccinations for H1N1 flu in mid- to late October. He said he didn't know the number of doses that would be delivered.

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