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Swine Flu Hits Panhandle

Swine flu has made it to the panhandle with students from both sides of the river being sent home from school this week with symptoms. Liberty County has had the most cases with 60 students out at LCHS one day last week. Fortunately, the number absent had dropped to 47 by Friday, but Liberty County School Superintendent Sue Summers says they are having two or three at the high school go home every day and the number is starting to spike at Tolar K-8. The J.V. football game was cancelled Thursday to allow players to move up to the varsity team on Friday night and replace several players who are out sick. As for precautions to keep this flu strain from spreading even more, Summers says, “We have hand sanitizers all over the place and encourage students to wash their hands often. We’re wiping down high use areas more often and wiping down buses every afternoon.” Here in Calhoun County, seven students were sent home from Blountstown Middle School with fevers on Thursday. Health departments in both counties are not testing for H1N1 – the official name for the swine flu – but are assuming that if the regular flu test is positive, it is the H1N1 strain since it is running rampant. “Right now across the country and in Florida in particular, 70 percent of all influenzas are testing as H1N1,” says Dr. Eugene Charbonneau, who serves as administrator at both local health departments. In both local school districts, officials are following the seven day rule as recommended by the health department: If you’re child has a fever, keep them home for seven days. “If a child has a fever, we’re sending them home immediately,” says Vicki Davis, Assistant Superintendent in Calhoun County. “Masks have been ordered through emergency management after the state allotted a very few for when kids are presented with symptoms and we’re waiting for parents to come pick them up.” A full week with a child at home will likely create a hardship for some parents, but Dr. Charbonneau says it’s the smartest thing to do to keep the flu from continuing to spread. As for words of wisdom, Dr. Charbonneau stresses, “If I have one main message, it’s don’t panic and use common sense. It’s the flu and they’ve not seen any evidence of it mutating. It’s a disease that, yes, if you have underlying illnesses, you have a greater risk of going on to worse complications, but that’s no different then any other flu. So far, everyone who’s gotten it has gotten better. We haven’t had any hospitalizations to my knowledge.”

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