By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — Students at Shoreham Elementary School got their summer vacation off to an early start this year — not to go out and enjoy good weather, but rather because a good number of kids were under the weather.
When around five students in the fifth-grade class exhibited flu-like symptoms on Thursday, June 11, school officials — in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health — decided to release that entire grade for summer vacation.
When an additional three students showed signs of the flu the very next day, officials decided to let the balance of the student body cap the 2008-2009 academic year.
The early release only cost students one day of classes (Monday, June 15), a day usually reserved for fun and year-end chores. But the spate of illnesses raised concern among Shoreham residents and school officials about a possible spread of the H1N1 virus, also known as Swine Flu, which raced around the world this spring.
Officials stressed none of the students were confirmed to have had H1N1, an illness believed to have originated in Mexico. While the illness in its most aggressive form has claimed some lives, those with healthy immune systems — namely, children — have weathered it without great difficulty.
“Everyone we have heard from, it has been a mild illness,” said Addison Central Supervisory Union nurse Mary Gill, who has helped tend to the Shoreham flu situation. “The fevers are usually over 101; there may be some aching for a few days.”
Gill said she has not heard of any of the cases developing into full-blown pneumonia or dehydration. State health officials have not required that any of the affected students get screened for H1N1. Because this is not the time of year for winter-related flu, people currently exhibiting influenza-like symptoms — such as high fever, aches, sore throat, cough nausea — can assume there’s a good chance it’s H1N1, according to Dr. Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist with the Vermont Department of Health.
“People should call their health care providers and get advice” if they are concerned, Kelso said.
“Most cases are mild,“ she stressed.
As of June 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported 32 “confirmed and probable cases” of H1N1 in Vermont. Nationally, medical officials have diagnosed more than 17,000 cases, 45 of which have resulted in deaths.
Shoreham Elementary School is not the only Vermont school to have shut its doors early as a result of the flu. Williston Central School closed two days early.
The Shoreham Elementary flu bug did not only hit students.
Principal Heather Best was also feeling under the weather, but rebounded nicely to the point where she was back at work on Tuesday.
Shoreham Elementary School board Chairwoman Elizabeth Christensen is confident the school took the best course of action to ensure more students — and by extension, their families — weren’t exposed to the flu.
“We decided that discretion would be the better part of valor,” she said, of the decision to begin summer vacation early.