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Schools prepare for swine flu, urge "Dracula sneeze"

August 21, 2009 |  4:49 pm

The start of the school year will undoubtedly bring a rise in H1N1 infections, health and education officials said today as they urged parents be vigilant in practicing precautionary measures like hand-washing and the “Dracula sneeze” (sneezing into the inside of your elbow).

“I want to make sure parents are not afraid to send their children to school if they are well,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, health officer for Los Angeles County. “There is no reason for panic.”

H1N1, or “swine flu,” was first detected in this country in April. More than 700 schools across the nation, including 37 in California, closed this spring because of suspected outbreaks. Overnight camps were hard-hit with flu cases this summer, prompting some to send children home.

The virus is highly contagious and children are particularly susceptible, but in healthy people, symptoms tend to be mild. Federal officials announced earlier this month that schools with outbreaks should be closed only if they serve vulnerable populations, such as pregnant teens or students with conditions such as muscular dystrophy, or if there are too few staff members or students to allow the school to function.

As classes start in the coming weeks, officials gathered at the La Fayette Park Primary Center to discuss the virus and prevention.

“We fully expect we’ll have more cases in the fall,” said Dr. Kimberly Uyeda, director of student medical services for the Los Angeles Unified School District. “We are prepared.”

-- Seema Mehta in Van Nuys