Updated federal guidelines for Type A H1N1 influenza were issued today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guidelines offer public health and school officials a range of options for responding to flu illness in schools depending on the severity of the outbreak. The guidance says officials should balance the risk of flu with the disruption that school cancellations will cause in education and the wider community.

The guidance was issued at a joint news conference by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and CDC Director Thomas Frieden.

The school guidance is part of a broader national framework to respond to Type A H1N1 influenza, which includes encouraging people to be vaccinated against the virus and to take other actions to avoid infection. The CDC anticipates more illness after the school year starts.

“We’re going to continue to do everything possible to keep our children – and all Americans – healthy and safe this fall,’’ Sebelius said. “But all Americans also have a part to play. The best way to prevent the spread of flu is vaccination. A seasonal flu vaccine is ready to go, and we should have one for the 2009 H1N1 flu by mid-October.’’

“The federal government continues to coordinate closely with state and local governments, school districts and the private sector on H1N1 preparation as we head into the fall flu season—and the upcoming school year,” said Secretary Napolitano. “Readiness for H1N1 is a shared responsibility, and the guidance released today provides communities with the tools they need to protect the health of their students and teachers.”

For an outbreak similar in severity to the spring 2009 H1N1 infection, the guidelines recommend basic good hygiene, such as hand washing.  In addition, students or staff members with flu-like illness should stay home at least 24 hours after fever symptoms have ended.

“We can all work to keep our children healthy now by practicing prevention, close monitoring, and using common sense,” Secretary Duncan said. “We hope no schools have to close. But if they do, we need to make sure that children keep learning.”

If H1N1 flu causes higher rates of severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths, school officials could add to or intensify their responses, the guidelines say. In addition, schools could begin actively screening students upon arrival and sending ill students home immediately. 

“Influenza can be unpredictable, so preparation and planning are key,” said Frieden.

For more information, visit www.flu.gov.

Source: HHS Press Release