Pennsylvania school nurses prepare to defend students against illness

School nurses across the state are watching for illnesses, including West Nile virus, whooping cough and H3N2v, a variance of swine flu.

Cheryl Sue Mattern, a nurse at Central York School District, said the state health department regularly updates nurses on diseases that could spread to their schools.

“I haven’t seen (West Nile) cases, but we’re on the lookout,” she said recently and added that symptoms of the virus can include fever, lethargy and bug bites.

As of last week, there weren’t any cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in Central, she said. However, the disease is making a comeback.

“There are pockets … across the country where they’re really having some severe outbreaks,” Mattern said. “It can be fatal to newborns and infants.”

York Jewish Community Center Executive Director Randy Freedman said two children at the center’s summer camp had whooping cough. “We worked with the department of health,” she said. “We were vigilant in informing families and staff.”

The state’s health department recently alerted school nurses they might see H3N2v symptoms in children who have had direct or indirect contact with pigs.

Since July 2012, almost 300 confirmed cases of H3N2v — a variant of influenza A H3N2 — have occurred in the United States, according to the department of health.

“This particular strain is relatively new,” said Christine Cronkright, the state’s spokeswoman. “We’ve been working very closely with physicians across Pennsylvania … The more we can track it, the more we can learn about it.”

H3N2v symptoms are similar to seasonal flu and can include fever, chills, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, she said. So far, 11 cases are confirmed and 30 more suspected in Pennsylvania.

The strain contains H1N1, also known as swine flu, that can be passed from human to human. H3N2v, however, spreads from pigs to people and vice versa, she said.

H3N2v is a variant of swine flu that can infect humans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states.

“Viruses that normally circulate in pigs are swine influenza viruses,” the site states. “When these viruses infect humans, they are termed ‘variant’ viruses.”

The main risk factor for contracting the virus has been exposure to pigs, mostly in fair settings. There have been limited cases of person-to-person spread of H3N2v, the site states.

“We’ve seen some that were linked to the Huntington County fair … and also Somerset County fair,” Cronkright said. “We’re obviously still watching it very, very closely.”

Cronkright said health officials recommend folks keep their hands clean and avoid eating or drinking in the vicinity of pigs. As with other strains of flu, babies, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are at highest risk of complications from H3N2v.

Samantha Elliott Krepps, press secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said influenza viruses in pigs can produce typical respiratory disease clinical signs, including coughing, sneezing, fever and loss of appetite.

“The severity can vary based on general health of the animals, environmental conditions like air quality and nutrition,” she said via email. “So there are cases where deaths do occur. In general, swine influenza is considered a controllable condition in well-managed commercial swine operations.”

To avoid H3N2v, a variance of swine flu, health officials say you should keep their hands clean and avoid eating or drinking in the vicinity of pigs. As with other strains of flu, babies, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are at highest risk of complications.

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