Mason not immune to predicted H1N1 outbreak

Rachel Schowalter | Staff Writer

American swine flu concerns have resurfaced as flu season begins, prompting Mason City Schools to seek guidelines for preventing widespread infection amongst students.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the H1N1 virus was first detected in the American population in April 2009. Originally referred to as “swine flu” because it contained genes that were similar to influenza viruses commonly found in pigs, H1N1 has since spread to all 50 states in America through human-to-human contact.

Mason City Schools’ Student Services Director Tom Morris said he sent emails to the district’s families before the school year began in order to prevent misinformation about the H1N1 virus from being circulated.

“We wanted to assure parents that the school system was doing everything that we possibly could, so that all of our staff, students and parents could have all the information prior to any potential outbreak,” Morris said.

Morris said the two emails sent to students’ families specifically discussed the guidelines given to Mason City Schools by the CDC and how the district was adhering to them. Jill Wittekind, the district’s Health Services Liaison and nurse at Mason Intermediate School, said the guidelines were used to train Mason faculty about the virus before the beginning of the school year. According to

Wittekind, the district will take these necessary measures in order to prevent school closure.

As flu seasons begins, Wittekind said that she advises all Mason students to practice “common-sense hygiene” by washing hands and avoiding the sharing of items, as the virus can survive on hard surfaces for two to eight hours.

Some people may seem overly cautious when it comes to preventing themselves from contracting the virus, but senior Carlos Suarez said it’s “better to be safe than sorry” by taking extra safety measures against H1N1. Suarez said he has worn a surgical mask to school to keep himself from getting infected.

“Not all types of masks work, but in some ways they are useful, and it can’t hurt in taking this extra precaution that can lower one’s risk of getting infected,” Suarez said.

In addition to the surgical mask, Suarez said he is taking “as many precautions as possible” against H1N1, including washing his hands frequently and disinfecting any surfaces he touches. Suarez said that he believes H1N1 could potentially harm a great majority of the world population if it keeps mutating.

Senior Lindsey Fetterly, who contracted the H1N1 virus and has since fully recovered, said that she, however, thinks the H1N1 hype will end soon, because of her experiences with the illness.

“[I wasn’t] really worried, because [my doctor] said most people are going to get it, and it’s not dangerous unless you have [preexisting health problems],” Fetterly said.

According to Fetterly, the symptoms she experienced while sick were similar to the seasonal flu. Fetterly said she was sick for a week and was told by her doctor that she would soon get over the illness like the regular flu or a cold.

“[The hysteria] is crazy,” Fetterly said. “The symptoms aren’t that bad, and it’s not really that dangerous.”

Although Fetterly said she does not feel that H1N1 is as harmful as it seems, Morris said Mason is still trying to be ahead of the curve in terms of its preparedness for H1N1 prevention and treatment.

According to Morris, Mason faculty and families will continue to be informed through email or the district website when he receives new information about H1N1.

“Our hope is to lessen any type of fear and to prepare parents by giving them good, solid advice,” Morris said. “[We want] to allay any myths that might be out there and give them the facts bypresenting it in a way that’s understandable.”