Schools prepared to combat virus

Published 10:41 am Friday, October 10, 2014

The presence of the Enterovirus D68 in Eastern Virginia was recently confirmed, and local school systems say they have protocols in place to either prevent or eliminate the spread of the respiratory disease.

On the website, the Virginia Department of Health announced that it’s watching closely the progression of the virus in the country. Cases in the northern and central parts of Virginia have already been reported.

The VDH also stated that EV-D68 was first identified in California in 1962, and it’s a less common strain of enterovirus.

“There is not a vaccine for it,” said Larry Hill, regional public information officer for the Virginia Department of Health. “This year it appears the virus has been infecting children more than adults.”

Also watching for EV-D68 is Amal Patel, epidemiologist at the Western Tidewater Health Department.

That particular virus, he said, is not the only one of its kind.

“There are more than 100 different strains of enterovirus,” he said. “Enteroviruses are not required to be reported by the CDC. Health professionals are not required to report about all the different strains of enterovirus.

“There’s no way to say if this is higher than normal, lower than normal or just normal. But we’re seeing more cases and more severe cases. Clustering is what brought the EV-D68 to attention.”

Patel also said there’s been no real surveillance data about which age group it affects, if there is one.

He confirmed that like the flu, there is a season for enteroviruses; two, actually.

“Yes, and we are in that fall cycle. Summer and fall cycles are when people are more likely to be infected in the U.S. There is some baseline of 10 to 15 million infections each year in the U.S. I would say the majority of enteroviruses are very mild.”

But among the severe cases, he added, they can cause respiratory problems, rashes or neurologic illness, such as septic meningitis.

The VDH has reported that enteroviruses are likely to spread from person to person when an infected person sneezes, coughs or touches contaminated surfaces. That’s why frequently washing hands is high on the list of local school protocols to deal with any kind of enterovirus or other infectious diseases.

“We’ve sent letters to our stakeholders and families about the enterovirus about the preventive measures that our families and students can take,” said Kelvin Edwards. He’s the director of organizational accountability and performance management for Franklin Public Schools.

“Washing hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds is key,” he said. “Stay home if you’re sick so as not to contaminate others. And even though it won’t prevent the enterovirus, we’re also encouraging people to get flu shots.”

Kenita Bowers, spokeswoman for Isle of Wight County Public Schools, said there’ve been no reported cases in the school division.

“Isle of Wight County Schools is being proactive in response to Enterovirus D68 being present in our area. Our coordinator of P.E., Health, School Safety and Student Health Betty Entsminger has been in regular communication with the Virginia Department of Health and the local health department to receive updates and FAQs about the virus.”

Bowers added that all principals and school nurses get the information they need to prepare and keep their staff up to date.

“Our directors of the custodian, transportation and food services departments are also informing their staff so that they are aware of the appropriate protocol to eliminate the spread of the virus. This includes sanitization, identifying symptoms and how to respond if a child appears to be showing signs of the illness,” she said.

Bowers added that she and Entsminger are reviewing the school system’s Pandemic Response Plan and that it has all the needed details particular to EV-D68.

“We will also share reminders with parents about keeping their child healthy and precautions they should take if they notice any symptoms of concern,” she said.

Also on guard is the Southampton County Public School system.

“Southampton schools have been very proactive regarding the enterovirus,” said Supt. Dr. Alvera Parrish.

There had been no cases in late August, she said. But when news about EV-D68 came to her attention prior to schools’ opening, Parrish brought in Chief Nurse Joyce Thomas and the principals to prepare.

“What I did to be proactive is we sent letters to parents alerting them about the virus in the second week of school (Sept. 10). That included information concerning symptoms, transmission and treatment and prevention. We also have stayed in close contact with local health departments, which is part of procedure,” Parrish said.

The school system is following steps recommended by CDC to prevent transmission, such as keeping students home when they’re sick.

“We have posters placed in every classroom to remind everyone to cover their coughs,” she said. “Of course we encourage our students to practice good hygiene skills. The best method is prevention.

“We have not had any reported cases thus far, and we’re striving to keep it that way.”