Will Swine Flu Follow Campers To School?

As many as 70 people may have been exposed to swine flu at this camp in suburban Cincinnati. i i

As many as 70 people, including 23 children, may have been exposed to swine flu at the Children's International Summer Villages, an international summer camp for preteens in suburban Cincinnati. Swine flu has been an issue for summer camps across the nation. Malinda Hartong/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Malinda Hartong/AP
As many as 70 people may have been exposed to swine flu at this camp in suburban Cincinnati.

As many as 70 people, including 23 children, may have been exposed to swine flu at the Children's International Summer Villages, an international summer camp for preteens in suburban Cincinnati. Swine flu has been an issue for summer camps across the nation.

Malinda Hartong/AP

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established priorities this week for who should get vaccinated for swine flu this fall, but the new H1N1 strain hasn't waited for the official start of flu season. The flu has had a major impact this summer on one venerable institution: camp.

Jessica Sass, 9, had a great time at Camp Alonim in Southern California this summer, but she had fewer bunkmates to share in the fun. Six of them — half the cabin — got sent home. They developed fevers and went to the infirmary. Their parents were notified to come and get them.

"We saw these two big luggage things on both sides of the door," Jessica says. "And we all started bursting in tears and stuff. It was sad."

She says the remaining six campers sat on the floor, hoping no one else would get sick and that their friends would return soon.

They did come back, but out of 410 children at Camp Alonim's first session, 160 were sent home, suspected of having swine flu. This was despite the camp's best efforts to screen them when they arrived, say Jessica's parents, Deborah and Larry Sass.

"They actually took all of the kids' temperatures and anyone over 99.5 was sent home for seven days regardless of the reason for their fever," Deborah Sass says.

Cases Around The Nation

Swine flu has been an issue for summer camps across the nation. At least 33 overnight camps in Maine have had outbreaks.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association, which runs 80 camps around the country, decided to cancel all sessions in July and August after a few campers in Utah, Minnesota and Pennsylvania came down with the disease. Dr. Valerie Cwik, the medical director of the MDA, says that decision disappointed 2,500 would-be campers and the volunteers who work with them.

"Our campers talk about camp as being the best week of the year, but we had to put the health and safety of the campers and the volunteer community first," she says.

People with muscular dystrophy and similar disorders are especially at risk, Cwik says. "Children with muscular dystrophy and related diseases often have weakness of their respiratory muscles and are prone to the flu and complications from the flu," she says. "You know, what we were learning about the swine flu was that this virus particularly targets lungs, which can lead to pneumonia, which can be catastrophic for children with weakened respiratory systems."

Worries Ahead Of School Year

The camp outbreaks serve as a warning of what schools may face in the fall.

Kimberly Uyeda, director of student medical services at the Los Angeles Unified School District, says the district is beginning to take precautions now.

"We've prepared letters to go out to parents and to staff," Uyeda says. "We're collaborating with county public health to display posters that talk about hand-washing and covering your cough and cough etiquette. That's out of the ordinary for us, but it's in line with what's being recommended."

School district warehouses are also chock-full of waterless hand sanitizer.

It isn't just students who are at risk, Uyeda says. The district is figuring out what to do if teachers and other staffers come down with swine flu.

Hopefully, it won't come to that, but no one knows whether the swine flu will be devastating this fall or just an extension of the usual flu season.

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