Wendy Smolke is on the front lines of the battle against the H1N1 virus - and she's prepared.
Smolke, the Brainerd High School South Campus secretary, keeps a small arsenal at her desk to ward off the swine flu. She has a spray bottle of CaviCide, a disinfectant, to spray down her receptionist counter and a container of disinfecting wipes to wipe down the communal phone where sick students call their parents for a ride home.
And she's got a large box of surgical masks for students to put on before they're picked up by their parents if they are suffering from influenza-like symptoms, like a fever and cough. She hasn't used those - not yet, anyway.
But BHS South Campus last week had two probable but unconfirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, the first two suspected cases reported in the district. Neither student required hospitalization so doctors do not confirm the diagnosis with the state Department of Health. School administrators have been monitoring the situation at the building, as well as other school buildings.
Harrison Elementary School first-grader Alex Morgan used a motion-activated hand-sanitizing station Monday at the Brainerd school. The Brainerd School District installed many of these wall-mounted hand-washing stations throughout its buildings to try to curb the spread of the H1N1 virus and other illnesses.
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So far the Brainerd schools, along with several area districts, haven't seen the large numbers of students exhibiting influenza-like illnesses like an elementary school in Lakeville where more than a quarter of students are home sick.
BHS South Campus, like other district buildings, stepped up efforts to curb the spread of the H1N1 virus and other illnesses. Motion-activated hand-sanitizing stations have been added at various locations throughout the building and teachers are reminding students to use them as they enter the classrooms or at lunchtime.
Sue Thurlow, media specialist at BHS South Campus, said she and staff members wipe down the computers and keyboards every morning in the computer labs and library and ask students to sanitize their hands as they enter the classroom. Thurlow said many students voluntarily use them as they leave the classroom, too.
"It's the fear factor," said Thurlow. "They don't want to get sick."
Todd Lyscio, Brainerd Community Education director who is helping coordinate the district's response to H1N1 virus, said with the large numbers of students entering the lunchroom at one time, the hand-sanitizing stations are necessary because there isn't enough room in the bathrooms for all of them to wash their hands at once.
Buddy Ferguson, a public information officer with the state Department of Health, said schools are asked to report to the state when 5 percent or more of students or three or more students in one classroom are out sick with influenza-type illnesses. As of Monday, 123 schools had met that criteria, he said.
"I think we've been saying all along that we can expect to see influenza in the schools in the fall and that clearly seems to be happening now," said Ferguson.
Pequot Lakes school nurse Joyce Olson said her school has had some students with influenza-like symptoms but nothing confirmed.
Little Falls district nurse Sue Wasland said there have been a few cases of influenza-like illnesses at the middle and high schools but it's pretty sporadic at this point.
Pillager school nurse Jessica Nylund said her school hasn't had any flu symptoms but students are getting hit with basic cold and allergy symptoms.
"Every day is a new adventure, that's for sure," said Nylund. "It's coming around and it's just a matter of time before it hits us."
Pine River-Backus school nurse Renata Remington echoed Nylund's remarks. Her school has had strep, stomach flu and sinus illnesses.
"Cass County told me, it's not if, it's when," Remington said, speaking of what county public health officials said of the H1N1 virus. "I'm sure it's on its way."
Crosby-Ironton Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland said his district also has had a few students exhibiting influenza-like symptoms.
"I think within a couple of weeks it's going to be here," said Skjeveland. "It's heading north. It's just a matter of time."
Joyce Mueller, a Crow Wing County Public Health nurse, said the peak of the H1N1 virus season is expected to hit about mid-November, around the time when the county receives its first 8,000-dose shipment of the H1N1 vaccine.
The first mass immunization clinic in the county is planned for noon to 8 p.m. Nov. 6 and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 7 at Forestview Middle School in Baxter, with additional clinics planned in Pequot Lakes and Crosby but those haven't been scheduled yet, said Mueller. She said about 20-30 nurses will be immobilized to provide the immunizations with about 30-40 volunteers likely through RSVP Volunteer Services who will assist with the walk-in traffic. No appointment will be necessary at these initial walk-in clinics but they are only open to those who fall into high-risk categories:
• Children ages 6 months to adults up to 24 years.
• Caregivers and parents of infants 6 months and younger.
• Adults 25-64 years with certain chronic medical or immunosuppressive conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease.
Mueller said emergency hospital workers in the county also will receive the vaccine at this time, which will be distributed to them through their employers. The county is expected to receive weekly shipments of 5,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine after that and will open up the vaccine to the general population once it is believed that the needs for the high-risk groups have been met.
Dr. Peter Henry, medical director of the emergency department at St. Joseph's Medical Center, also serves as the medical consultant for Crow Wing County Public Health. Henry said Tuesday that since Sept. 8, St. Joseph's has had three positive tests for Influenza A, which could be the H1N1 strain, but none of these tests were sent to the state for testing since none of the patients were hospitalized. Henry said there have been no positive Influenza A cases at Brainerd Medical Center, but there have been patients who have been treated for what is presumed to be the flu.
"I think it's only a matter of time," Henry said of more influenza cases. "But we don't want to create a panic."
Henry stressed that in most cases, people who contract the H1N1 virus will have relatively mild flu symptoms. He said there is nothing doctors can do once someone comes down with this flu strain. The best medicine is to stay home and not go to a clinic or the emergency room where others may become infected. Henry said information on the H1N1 virus and guidelines on when it's important to seek medical treatment is available on the Brainerd Lakes Health Web site, www.brainerdlakeshealth.org.
"Stay home, take care of yourself and you'll be fine," said Henry.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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