Prep Schools Respond to Flu Outbreak

New England boarding schools are among the growing number of places affected by the H1N1 virus, commonly known as “swine flu.” Swine flu is a respiratory illness that has symptoms which are almost identical to those of the normal seasonal flu. While Phillips Academy has not had any swine flu cases, the Andover community has taken precautionary measures to prevent an outbreak. Such measures include “H1N1 Flu Update” emails to the entire community from Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School. Andover has also cancelled various programs and sports events due to the potential risk of swine flu infection. Among these programs is a summer student exchange program in Japan. For the exchange program, typically held from mid-June to mid-July, Andover students study at the Toin Gakuen School in Yokohama, Japan, while Japanese students attend Andover’s summer session on campus. “The Minister of Education in Japan discouraged Japanese schools to send students overseas. It was a hard decision for the [Toin Gakuen School], but if they cannot send kids out of [Japan], they can’t accept foreign students either,” said Teruyo Shimazu, Instructor in Japanese. “Since Japan is so condensed and small, one person can spread the virus quickly. I can see the fear factor, and the Japanese media definitely magnifies this fear. However, I am so surprised that they just cancelled on such short notice with an announcement rather than consulting us,” Shimazu said. The decision to cancel the summer program disappointed many Andover students, said Shimazu. “I blame the media for blowing up the H1N1 flu virus as if it’s the Black Death,” she said. Multiple cases of boarding students exhibiting swine flu-like symptoms have appeared in states as close as New Hampshire and in other Massachusetts towns. A student at the New Hampton School was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus on May 1 at the Steare Memorial Hospital. The New Hampton School is located in New Hampton, New Hampshire, about 80 miles from Andover. According to Martha Flanders, Registered Nurse at the New Hampton School, the student first arrived at the school’s health center with flu-like symptoms. The student was taken to Steare Memorial Hospital for diagnosis. The student then stayed in an isolated room in the school health center until a parent picked the student up. “We had May 4 off, where classes and activities were cancelled in order to ‘regroup.’ The Department of Health came to campus, and we had discussions. After that day, all classes and activities resumed,” continued Flanders. “We are promoting good hand washing, placing extra hand sanitizer in classrooms, instructing the housekeeping staff to clean dormitories more thoroughly at night, and discouraging students from hanging out in crowds,” said Flanders. Flanders said that the New Hampton community had a “pretty calm” reaction to the diagnosis of the student. The same day that the New Hampton student was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, a male student at the Middlesex School in Concord, MA, visited the school’s health center with several flu-like symptoms, including a fever and sore throat. “After we isolated him, he was sent home, seen by a pediatrician and diagnosed with influenza,” said Meg McLaughlin, Director of the Health Center at the Middlesex School. Though the Massachusetts Department of Health did not recommend testing for anyone who did not pose a serious risk, McLaughlin spoke to health officials in order to get the student tested. According to McLaughlin, the student was considered a “probable case” by May 5 and became a confirmed case on May 7. After the diagnosis, the student was sent home for seven days. “By May 5, we had already begun closely monitoring the student body,” said McLaughlin. The Middlesex administration also implemented other “public health initiatives,” including educational bulletins for students and an All-School Assembly devoted to H1N1 awareness. In addition, Middlesex administrators cancelled Alumni Weekend because of the risk of having elderly alumni and young children on campus, according to McLaughlin. She said, “The reaction to the H1N1 flu virus was mostly calm and measured. However, there were a few students, faculty and staff members that were worried.” “The student is back at school, and he is doing very well,” McLaughlin continued. “At this point, we are taking no further measures, as there are no other suspicious illnesses on campus.” According to Massachusetts’s Department of Public Health, the state has seen 107 total confirmed cases of swine flu, the majority of cases having occurred in Middlesex, as of May 12. Like PA, Deerfield Academy has had no confirmed cases but has taken measures to prevent the H1N1 virus on campus. “We are encouraging proper hygiene such as hand washing or coughing into [one’s] sleeve,” said Tom Hagamen, Medical Director at Deerfield. “We are currently in an intensified surveillance mode at the Health Center for influenza-like illnesses.” “When someone comes [to Deerfield’s health center] with flu-like symptoms, we do more testing and look at the student’s travel and medical history,” Hagamen said. According to the Deerfield Academy website, the school will no longer allow students to take overnight trips on weekends for the remainder of the school year. Deerfield cancelled its annual Spring Weekend, originally scheduled from May 8 to May 10, when students’ parents visit campus and attend classes. Deerfield also cancelled an interscholastic debate and a trip to Six Flags, both originally planned for May 3.