Local School Closes Due to Probable Case of Swine Flu

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Berkeley Unified School District announced yesterday that it would close a local elementary school this week in response to the first probable case of swine flu in Berkeley.

After a parent with children enrolled at Malcolm X Elementary School in South Berkeley was diagnosed with the H1N1 swine flu strain, the city's Department of Health and Human Services recommended that the district cancel classes at the school this week.

The infected parent's children are showing flu-like symptoms and are suspected to have contracted the strain, said Janet Berreman, acting health officer for the department.

The parent, like most individuals who contract the strain, was not admitted to a hospital and is recovering well, she said.

The median age of those who have contracted swine flu is 17, Berreman said. There are currently 26 confirmed H1N1 cases in California and 226 total in the United States.

Berreman said the strain, which has led to the death of one person in the United States as of yesterday, is no more dangerous than the common flu.

"Its been a very mild illness so far," she said.

The Berkeley case comes after a student at Shore Acres Elementary School in Bay Point was diagnosed with a probable case last week and three students at Highlands Elementary School in nearby Pittsburg were confirmed as having the H1N1 swine flu strain on Wednesday.

Since the closure of Highlands Elementary School, attendance at all schools in Pittsburg Unified School District has gone down about 10 percent as anxious parents keep their children home, according to

Pittsburg Unified School District's deputy superintendent Linda Rondeau.

Berreman said that people should not be anxious as the disease spreads.

"For the illness that it is as it's currently manifesting itself, people do not need to be alarmed," she said. "They can protect themselves actively and easily by washing their hands, covering their coughs and sneezes and staying home if they're sick."

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said the city will focus its policy on keeping the public informed and calm, due to the relative mildness of the H1N1 strain in the United States.

"I think that it could get worse, but right now-knock on wood-it's not been a problem in the United States like it has been in Mexico," he said. "People have gotten it and gotten over it."

The city is coordinating with the Tang Center and campus administrators to organize testing and prepare for cases on campus.

Anxious students asking to be tested for swine flu have overloaded the Tang Center, according to Dr. Brad Buchman, medical director of University Health Services. He said specific numbers on the influx are not yet available.

"It's not necessary (for students to come) here with a bunch of sick people in the waiting room," he said. "It's a way to get sick if you're not."

The center has increased the number of outreach workers visiting dorms to inform students about prevention, he added.

Buchman said students with flu symptoms should take normal precautions and stay home, keeping at least six feet away from roommates.

He said students should keep swine flu in perspective by remembering that regular influenza kills about 40,000 people a year in the United States.

"A lot of people are coming in if they get a cough or a cold or a sore throat (or fever), thinking they have swine flu," Buchman said.

Patients need all symptoms to be screened at the Tang Center, he said.

"All of the cases we've seen this week have been mild," he said. "We haven't had to treat anybody because no one is that sick."


Contact Katie Meyer at [email protected]

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