Signs posted in the bathrooms at Strawberry Park Elementary School encourage students to wash their hands. Regular hand-washing is one of the best ways to combat the spread of flu in Steamboat Springs.

Photo by John F. Russell

Signs posted in the bathrooms at Strawberry Park Elementary School encourage students to wash their hands. Regular hand-washing is one of the best ways to combat the spread of flu in Steamboat Springs.

Flu continues to spread through Routt County

Officials think some of the cases in schools are H1N1 virus

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Are you ready for an emergency?

September is National Preparedness Month, and an official with the Routt County Office of Emergency Management said that if you're not ready, you should be.

"Being ready for an emergency goes beyond making sure the batteries in your smoke detector work or that you have extra food in your pantry," Bob Struble, the county's emergency management director, stated in a news release. "Emergency preparedness includes assembling an emergency supply kit, making a family emergency plan, staying informed and getting involved in your community preparedness efforts."

Struble suggests that each family have a basic kit with at least three days' supply of water, non-perishable food, flashlights, fresh batteries, prescription medications, pet supplies, a battery-powered radio, a first aid kit and other items needed in the event of an emergency.

For tips about preparing for emergencies, visit www.readycolorado.com, www.ready.gov and citizencorps.gov.

— The typical start to flu season still hasn't arrived, but suspected cases of swine flu continue to pop up throughout Routt County.

Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said two Strawberry Park Elementary School students were out of class Monday with suspected cases of swine flu, according to their physicians, bringing the district's total to five. Parents of three high school students Friday said their physicians confirmed their children's swine flu diagnoses.

Since Sept. 4, five students at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus have tested positive for Influenza A, said Brian Hoza, assistant campus dean of student services. Another 15 students have been treated for flu-like symptoms, and six others who were exposed also have been treated.

In Hayden, Superintendent Greg Rockhold said a middle school student stayed home Monday with a suspected case of swine flu. No cases were reported in the South Routt School District as of Monday, Superintendent Scott Mader said.

Because it's so early in the flu season, physicians are operating on the assumption that patients who test positive for Influenza A have the H1N1 strain, said Dot Haberlan, team leader for school health services for Routt County's public schools.

She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends additional testing for H1N1, which is done at a state lab, only if the patient has been hospitalized or is severely ill. So far, that hasn't been the case in the county.

Haberlan said the CDC recommends the same treatment for the seasonal flu and H1N1 because symptoms for both are similar. She said that includes staying home for 24 hours after a fever has subsided. However, a study released Monday indicates the swine flu could continue to spread many days after the patient's fever goes away. Experts say waiting until the coughing stops could be a more reliable sign of when a swine flu patient is no longer contagious.

"I know that's hard when people have to work or have responsibilities," Haberlan said. "But this is how this illness is spread. If people keep home, it will go a long way to helping this wave dissipate, I hope."

Hoza said that ill CMC students were encouraged to stay in their dorm rooms. Cunningham said parents were told to keep their children home until they were feeling well enough to return to school. Rockhold said a letter would be sent home with students Monday telling them procedures for preventing and treating H1N1, such as having their children wash their hands frequently, cough into their elbows and stay home when they feel sick.

Cunningham reiterated Monday that the district is following the CDC's H1N1 guidelines to not close schools but that it would monitor the situation on a case-by-case basis. She said Routt County school districts have been meeting with county health officials since the spring to discuss procedures for dealing with H1N1. Cunningham said when they last met, they agreed to conduct data analyses about absentee rates every month for the past three years to compare with how many students are missing school this fall because of flu-like symptoms. She said that data would be used to help them make a decision about closing schools, if that became necessary.

At this point, Cunningham said they don't know what to anticipate in regard to how many more students could become sick.

"They're telling us it's very contagious," she said. "We don't know what to expect. Our focus right now is prevention."

Jim Johnson, Emergency Preparedness and Response Coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, said in addition to schoolchildren and their parents, all people and businesses need to step up and think about what they need to do to stay open and protect the community from the spread of H1N1.

He said that includes not only staying home when sick, but also practicing basic hygiene, getting immunized and cross-training employees so if one contracted swine flu and had to stay home, another could do his or her job.

"Taking responsibility for preparation and planning is all a part of this effort," he said.

Reporter Brandon Gee contributed to this story.

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