Further cases of swine flu are expected in city and county schools in the coming weeks and months, the HSE West warned this week.
The comment came in the wake of an outbreak of the virus at the 700 plus pupil Calasanctius College in Oranmore.
Six students were confirmed with the condition at the secondary school, which is to remain open following consultation with the local health authority. The affected students are being cared for at home.
A further case is being investigated at a city primary school. Laboratory tests are being carried out to find out if the child, who is also being looked after at home, has swine flu.
Dr Diarmuid O’Donovan, director of public health with the HSE West, said a number of these cases are arising around the country.
“Parents should be reassured that in the vast majority of cases, the illness is mild, children are treated at home and in most cases return to school within seven days.”
Further cases are expected throughout the city and county and the HSE has outlined it will be on hand to provide advice to schools.
Referring to the swine flu outbreak at Calasanctius College, an HSE spokesperson said a number of pupils presented with fever, cough, sore throat, headache, runny or stuffy nose, body aches and fatigue. In all cases, the illness was mild.
“The HSE West has been working closely with the school principal, teachers and pupils to minimise the risk of the spread of the flu. Based on advice from the HSE West public health department, a decision was made by the school principal that the school would continue to function as normal.
“The following steps are being implemented to prevent the spread of flu within the school:
* Parents, staff and students have been informed.
* HSE West’s public health team will be available to advise the school at all times.
* Students and staff have been advised to watch for symptoms suggestive of flu. Persons with flu-like illness will be sent home as soon as possible.
* Staff or students affected by flu have been informed that they should stay at home for seven days from onset date even if they feel better sooner.
* There is no need for family contacts of cases to stay away from work or school unless they develop symptoms.
* Parents of students in a defined risk group should be particularly careful regarding symptoms and should contact their GP promptly if symptoms develop.”
Dr O’Donovan said parents of pupils attending the school are advised not to send children there if they are sick.
“Children who are sick should be kept at home for seven days from the onset of symptoms. Any child who is sick at school will be sent home. Staying at home when sick will allow a child to rest and allows carers to monitor their health closely.
It also protects other children and staff members especially those at higher risk of severe illness from flu. A team from the public health department, HSE West has visited the school to advise on control measures.”
Meanwhile Oranmore Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, whose son is a Junior Certificate student at the college, stated the outbreak was a major cause of concern for parents, students and teachers.
She said a number of parents have contacted her since the weekend claiming there are “far more” cases of swine flu than reported.
“One parent told me her son had all the symptoms, sudden onset and a high temperature - having had a temperature of 103 degrees for three to four days before it broke. He wasn’t one of the confirmed cases. She questioned why wasn’t the HSE swabbing the unwell kids. Her suspicion was that the HSE was playing down the prevalence of swine flu and keeping the numbers artifically low so as not to cause panic.”
An HSE spokesperson said since it moved from “containment” to the “treatment” phase of the pandemic in mid-July it made it “explicitly clear” to the public that it will not be swabbing everyone.
“This is the same approach being taken in the majority of other countries. As we know that swine flu is the predominant flu virus in the country at this time our efforts are now concentrated on the management and treatment of cases rather than laboratory confirmations.
“It is not appropriate to swab everyone who is ill as knowing their infection status does not change the management of the illness. Once the swine flu virus has been confirmed in a small number of students in a school we presume that the main cause of flu like illness in that setting is the swine flu virus as it is the most common influenza virus circulating at this time. If vulnerable people in the high risk groups develop flu like symptoms they need to start treatment immediately and swabbing will not change their management.”
The spokesperson stressed the health authority’s approach to the number of cases has been “entirely transparent” since the start of the pandemic.
“In the early stages - April, May, June - we were giving daily updates on the number of confirmed cases [as all cases were being swabbed]. Since we moved to treatment phase we have been giving weekly updates on the number of influenza like cases [ILI] in the community which is based on the GP sentinel system [used every year to calculate rates of seasonal flu in the community]. This system of 60 GP practices around the country provides information on the percentage of ILI per 100,000 people. While this does not provide exact numbers for cases of swine flu it does give an estimate and allows us to see emerging trends, etc. The data from this report is published every Thursday on the HPSC website.”
For further information about swine flu telephone the HSE 24 hour flu helpline at 1800 94 1100 or visit the flu website at www.swineflu.ie