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AZ School Nurses on Swine Front Line

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 By Doug RamseyContact
June 15, 2009

Phoenix, AZ – Efforts to contain an expected second wave of the swine flu this fall may depend on Arizona's shrinking numbers of school nurses. Maricopa County public health director Dr. Bob England says the nurses help keep flu from spreading in the schools, which lessens the chance of it exploding in the community.

"School nurses are our first line of defense against the flu. Children amplify the flu, meaning they're very good at spreading it to other kids."

England says swine flu also appears to hit children and young adults harder, and make them sicker, than it does older adults. He says school nurses are needed more than ever, just as their numbers are being reduced by school districts because of cuts in state funding.

Lynette Cook, the nurse at Lowell School in Phoenix, found out how fast the flu can spread one Monday last month.

"We had 120 students call in sick that day, and then by about one o'clock in the afternoon, I had sent 56 kids home."

Half the entire fifth and sixth grades were out sick. Health officials closed the school for a week.

Cook says it's the nature of children to spread illness.

"Kids are very friendly and outgoing and loving and just touch everything and touch each other and aren't real conscientious about washing their hands and covering their mouths."

Dr. England says the first swine flu wave probably won't go away completely over the summer.

"There is going to be, for sure, another wave of infection with this new virus. That's what always happens historically with brand-new, so-called 'novel' flu viruses like this one."

England says he doesn't know how bad the second wave will be, but how well we control it in schools is going to be of key importance, and school nurses are crucial to that effort.

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