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GF School Board discusses swine flu

A local health official told the Grand Forks School Board on Monday that the swine flu strain is unique in who it tends to infect, and that is what has parents and school officials concerned as the next school year begins.

A local health official told the Grand Forks School Board on Monday that the swine flu strain is unique in who it tends to infect, and that is what has parents and school officials concerned as the next school year begins.

"This one very much has targeted our young kids," said Don Shields, Grand Forks Public Health director.

The average age of a person ill with swine flu is 18, he said, and 76 percent of North Dakota's cases have been in people younger than 29.

Shields called school-age kids "perfect little incubators" for the disease, but said there are a number of recommendations to hopefully prevent widespread illness.

Once a community has a relatively large number of infected people, new cases grow exponentially, he said. That's why the goal is to keep the infected numbers as low as possible.

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Some common sense tactics, such as hand washing and having sick people stay home, can prevent as many as 73 percent of flu cases, Shields said. With seasonal flu vaccines, that rate can increase to 90 percent.

A swine flu vaccine currently is being developed, with about 40 million doses expected by October or November and a total of 200 million doses by next January. Each person will need two doses, meaning only 100 million Americans will be able to get the vaccine at that time.

Shields said his department is not recommending school closures right now, but some schools could be shutdown for about five days if there is an increase in the number of ill children or an increased death rate.

Sick children would have to stay home until their fever has subsided for at least 24 hours, which could take 7 to 10 days from the onset of illness, he said.

Some people have thought the relatively low number of serious cases in the country means that swine flu is a mild pandemic, Shields said. But he pointed out that his office "certainly isn't aware of any magic pill for this" and said historically, four out of five pandemics return within two years.

He said it wouldn't seem like a mild illness to the parents of a dead child. "We want to prevent every one of those," he said. "Even one is too many in Grand Forks."

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