Health

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AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh

Swine Flu Resurgence Highlights School Nurse Shortage

September 28, 2009 03:45 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Many school districts around the country have few or no school nurses to deal with the latest surge of swine flu outbreaks.

Not Enough School Nurses

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A shortage of nurses in many school districts around the country will be a challenge for schools dealing with potential swine flu outbreaks during the fall and winter seasons, “leaving students more vulnerable to a virus that spreads easily in classrooms and takes a heavier toll on children and young adults,” Terence Chea reports for The Associated Press.

Children with “weakened immune systems or respiratory conditions” are particularly prone to catching the disease and suffering from its consequences, Chea explains. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the National Association of School Nurses, quoted by the AP, “only 45 percent of public schools have their own full-time nurse, another 30 percent have a part-time nurse, and a quarter don't have any nurses at all.” The number of available nurses in most districts is not nearly enough to meet health needs during a busy flu season.

According to Jane Doss, a representative for the Michigan school nurse association, the decrease in the number of available school nurses is mostly due to budgeting issues. “[T]here are less nurses because there's less state money feeding into school districts,” she explains to WLNS TV 6. “There are entire school districts without a school nurse,” she adds.

The situation in many school districts could become dire considering a new wave of the swine flu virus is already beginning to hit in many regions of the country. “Doctors, health clinics, hospitals, and schools are reporting rapidly increasing numbers of patients experiencing flu symptoms,” Rob Stein reports for The Boston Globe, though so far, most cases have been mild. According to Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “H1N1 is spreading widely throughout the US,” a statement echoed by a report from the CDC released last week, explaining that “at least 26 states are now reporting widespread flu activity, up from 21 a week earlier.” 

Reactions: How necessary are school nurses?

Many parents have expressed concern about the lack of nurses in their children’s schools. “It's really irresponsible of the school district to not really provide medical oversight while kids are in school,” Jamie Hintzke, a mother of two in Pleasanton Unified School District in California, told the AP. “I'm playing Russian roulette every single day [my son] goes to school,” she adds.

Others, however, don’t consider the lack of a trained nurse in the school to be a major hindrance. Winthrop Harbor School District 1 in Illinois, for instance, doesn’t have the financial resources necessary to keep a staff nurse. Instead, the school gets by with increased efforts by health aides that work with parents, students and the district Health Department, Kendrick Marshall reports for the Lake County News-Sun. “I don't think not having a nurse would endanger students in any way,” Winthrop Harbor Superintendent Dennis Guiser told the News-Sun.

Background: Parents disregard upcoming swine flu vaccine

The upcoming swine flu vaccine, which should be available nationwide in October, has high chances of being successful considering that “the genetic makeup of the H1N1 swine flu continues to remain stable,” Steven Reinberg reports for U.S. News and World Report. Though the virus has continued to spread throughout the United States, “most cases are mild to moderate, much like the regular ‘seasonal’ flu,” health officials report, according to Reinberg.

As Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC, told U.S. News and World Report, “It means that the vaccine that we have coming off the production line shortly is a very good match—in fact, an excellent match—with the virus that continues to circulate, which suggests it is likely to be very effective in preventing illness.”

In spite of this positive outlook, however, a national survey conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital suggests that many parents do not plan on having their children vaccinated, underestimating the risks of the H1N1 virus in youngsters. According to the report, only 40 percent of parents in the U.S. will have their children vaccinated against the H1N1 virus, “much fewer than those who plan to have children get the seasonal flu vaccine.” Those who don’t plan to vaccinate their children, furthermore, are not worried about the possibility of infection, and don’t believe that “H1N1 flu will be worse for children than seasonal flu.”

Related Topic: College students unfazed by swine flu threat

In spite of warnings and alerts, college students don’t seem to be concerned about the risk of swine flu on campuses around the nation. Due to the mild nature of the current virus strain, many students are ignoring the potential dangers of infection. College administrators, however, are struggling to hinder the spread of the contagious virus.
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