Thursday, October 15, 2009

H1N1 Hits Our House

Like many parents, last week I debated whether to send my elementary school aged daughter to school. She spiked a fever and came down with a hoarse cough after a day of school and a playdate with a friend. I wasn’t sure whether she was genuinely sick or just exhausted from a full schedule.

Even before the start of the school year, the principal had sent home a notice informing parents not to send potentially sick children to school. With fears of transmitting H1N1 through a school full of kids who are more likely to wipe their noses on shirtsleeves than a tissue, the chance of contagious illnesses spreading quickly student-to-student is enormous. In fact, many states have already been identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as having “widespread” outbreaks of H1N1 since the school year began.

In my daughter’s elementary, I’d heard many students had been out for a week or more with swine flu-like symptoms. And yet, with physicians urging parents to keep kids home, versus coming into the office or visiting the ER (where they could pick up another illness in the waiting room), it’s difficult to know exactly how sick your child may or may not be. In our case, I had previously scheduled my daughter’s seasonal flu shot the day after she’d become sick. Instead of receiving her vaccination, the physician swabbed my daughter’s mouth and confirmed H1N1.

I was startled by the diagnosis--my daughter didn’t seem very ill and over-the-counter medication brought her fever under control easily. The pediatrician advised that I continue with the medication, considering that the most popular prescription for treating H1N1, Tamiflu, wasn’t available in our area (the pharmacies were all out of doses for children). She explained that relatively healthy children, without a history of serious illnesses or potential complications like ear infections or asthma, would probably recover on their own. Rest and relaxation were the cure, according to her doctor. Still, I wondered, did I need to come back into the office before she could go back to school? Her advice: as long as my daughter was fever-free without the help of Tylenol for 24 hours, she could return to school.

My decision about whether to send my daughter to school or not was relatively easy; most school districts would rather have your child miss a day—or two—versus having him spread an illness that might infect the whole classroom. And, since I work from home I could let my daughter stay at home with me without having to call in and explain to a boss that I needed to take a personal day. Even though she was well after a weekend on the couch watching countless episodes of SpongeBob, I kept her home an extra day before sending her back to school. Afterall, I didn’t want her to pick up another illness while her body was still recovering.

For other parents encountering the same quandary about whether to send their child to school, the decision isn’t always so simple. You may have exhausted all your personal and sick days at work, or your boss may be unwilling to let you miss, leaving you to contact friends or nearby family to help out. Add to the confusion, many media outlets are reporting mild swine flu symptoms next to stories of fatalities due to the virus. If you have any concerns about your child’s health, the first step to take is to call your child’s pediatrician, who can tell you whether the illness has been making the rounds in your area and offer additional medical expertise. Maybe the next call should be the school attendance line.

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