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Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Shalee Cunningham alerted parents Friday to three cases of swine flu at Steamboat Springs High School.
"This memo is to let you know that we do have three confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus at the high school," Cunningham wrote in an e-mail. "The students have been sent home and will remain home until the symptoms have passed. It is not our intent to close schools; we are treating this like any other influenza."
Health care professionals here say it is almost certain the H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as swine flu, is making the rounds in Steamboat. However, they add that they would be surprised if local clinics had sent patient samples to the state health lab for the additional testing needed to confirm that a case of type A influenza was the H1N1 virus.
One possible explanation behind the confirmed diagnoses they say, is that it's unusually early to see cases of seasonal flu, and mid-September diagnoses are a strong indicator of swine flu.
Mary Dierdorff, head nurse at Steamboat Medical Group, said her clinic has diagnosed patients, including students at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, with type A influenza. But not only have they not confirmed they were cases of H1N1 virus, they haven't even sent patients' nasal test swabs to the state health lab for the needed additional testing.
"It's most likely that it's H1N1," Dierdorff said. "But we have to meet criteria to send them to the state. You have to be really sick for us to send them in."
For Steamboat families
intent on caring for their youngsters, the discussion about whether it's H1N1 or not may be academic. That's because health providers here agree that the treatment for all symptoms and treatment for all strains of type A influenza are the same.
"For us, these cases are confirmed because the parents (of the students) told us their physicians have confirmed them," said Dot Haberlan, team leader for school health services in Routt County public schools with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
Haberlan's colleague at the VNA, public health nurse Janice Poirot, said many health care providers see no benefit to taking the extra step of confirming whether a flu patient has H1N1.
"Just knowing that it's type A flu drives the treatment," she said.
Dierdorff said depending on how far the bug has progressed, doctors may prescribe anti-viral medication that doesn't cure the flu but lessens the severity of the symptoms.
Often, Haberlan said, flu patients don't even know they are sick until they've had the disease for several days.
"You can shed virus (meaning you are contagious) for several days and give it to someone else before you even know you have it," Haberlan said.
For that reason and others, Haberlan and Cunningham agree that closing school to decrease the possibility the flu will spread is undesirable.
However, Cunningham said school officials have begun research that could be used to make a decision about closing the schools should the severity and number of flu cases become a greater concern.