Flu brings Prospect School closure

Prospect School in remote northeastern Jackson County will close for the rest of the week because more than 30 percent of its students and teachers have come down with flu symptoms, according to Jackson County Health and Human Services.

About 69 of the school's 210 pupils and five of its 16 teachers had flu symptoms Monday, said Prospect School Superintendent Don Alexander.

That number burgeoned since Wednesday when only nine Prospect students had flu symptoms, according to a weekly count by the Southern Oregon Education Service District.

"It does seem to spread very fast," Alexander said.

Prospect, the only school in the small Prospect School District, is the first campus in Jackson County this school year to close because of widespread flu symptoms.

The district consulted the education service district and the county Health and Human Services before making the decision.

Prospect School may be more susceptible to closure during times of heavy illnesses, said Jim Shames, medical director for the county Health and Human Services.

The campus closed for two days last January when about a third of the school came down with cold symptoms, Alexander said.

Because of the school's remote location, it is difficult to find substitute teachers when the regular faculty is ill, Alexander said.

If it had been in a larger school district, the closure might not have been necessary, Shames said.

The health department and the education service district have been tracking flu symptoms at schools each week as part of their effort to monitor the spread of the new flu strain, the H1N1 virus. It is unclear whether the flu cases are H1N1, but that is the likelihood considering the fast spread and early arrival of the cases, officials said. Flu season typically doesn't begin until late fall or early winter.

Susan Castillo, superintendent of the Oregon Department of Education, has encouraged schools to remain open during the H1N1 pandemic because it's clear closing them doesn't eliminate the spread of the infection and is disruptive to the community.

However, without adequate substitute teachers to replace those out ill, Prospect officials said they felt they couldn't adequately educate the students who would attend.

As Prospect has a four-day week, students will only be missing three full days of school. Those days will likely be made up, Alexander said. He said he will consult with the school's teachers union to determine when that would occur.

The H1N1 pandemic began in June, according to the World Health Organization.

To help prevent the spread of the flu, health officials recommend covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or alternatively, your elbow, when coughing or sneezing; wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-hand sanitizers; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; try to avoid close contact with sick people; and stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever has subsided without the aid of fever reducing medications.

The first rounds of H1N1 vaccinations are expected to arrive in Southern Oregon in the next two weeks, Shames said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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