Soon after kids return to school, in the coming few weeks, we may see the H1N1 swine flu come back with sudden swiftness. That’s based on what’s happened during past pandemics, such as in 1957, and on the virus’ behavior in the southern hemisphere. Are the schools ready?
It’s hard to tell. They basically are continuing where they left off when the first wave of sickness passed through last spring.
My colleague, Jennifer Wing, reports on discussions between Public Health Seattle & King County and school districts. They don’t plan to close schools this time, and sick kids won’t have to stay home for as long (it was a full week last spring). But, from what we’ve heard so far, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s making contingency plans for absentee rates that might range in the 30-50% range.
Epidemiologists are concerned with getting timely updates on the numbers of absent students. This is essential for monitoring when and where outbreaks are happening, and last spring some schools were better than others about reporting.
Don’t be surprised if outbreaks begin as early as September. The evidence keeps mounting that wherever kids congregate in large numbers, that’s where you’ll see rapid transmission of flu virus. In 1957, it took just 3-6 weeks after school started before many cities saw a surge of illness.
What about a vaccine, to prevent illness? The first doses may not be available until after the first wave of sickness. But, there may be additional outbreaks long into winter, and the vaccine will protect against those.
On the other hand, swine flu infections still appears to be mild, unless you have an underlying sickness or medical condition.