The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

April 27, 2009

Wash hands, avoid the sick to guard against flu

By Karen Middleton

One school official said Monday that personal hygiene lessons taught in day-to-day classes take on added importance in the threat of swine flu.

“We promoted good personal hygiene before,” said Limestone County Assistant Superintendent Mike Owens. “We would tell students if you must share something, wash your hands and do not put your hands around your mouth. But it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder now and then.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1,600 cases of swine flu have been reported in Mexico and 149 people are suspected to have died from the outbreak. No one has died in the United States and just one person has been hospitalized of the 40 people who have come down with the disease.

Owens said the school system has no policy on how high the percentage of absenteeism must be before temporarily closing a school.

“We would keep in close contact with the Department of Public Health, and also, we would depend upon our school nurses to decide on whether it would be in the best interest of that school or community to shut down,” said Owens.

While the strain invading the U.S. seems less severe than the outbreak in Mexico, the Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency as a precaution.

Americans are advised to avoid travel to Mexico.

Brett Westmoreland of Athens, who just returned from a honeymoon cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, with his bride, Jamie Phillips, said they probably would not have canceled the cruises, even if they had known about the swine flu outbreak before departing.

“We went by ship and didn’t see anyone who was sick,” said Westmoreland.

He said the precautions taken at airports, such as personnel in masks and taking of temperatures was not done at the ports.

“We only saw one person in a mask and that was a tourist when we toured the Mayan ruins,” he said.

The Westmorelands returned Saturday from their weeklong cruise and he said, “We’re both feeling fine.”

Staying healthy

The CDC advises that these are everyday actions that people can take to help avoid the flu:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; throw the tissue in the trash.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially if you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaner s are also effective.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people (especially if that person appears ill)

• If you get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others