Back to School with Swine Flu

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Students in many parts of the world have gone back to school amid worries about the A(H1N1) virus, aka the swine flu pathogen, which is easily spread in group settings. In the Philippines, school began on June 1 as scheduled despite concerns about the virus. Although a few schools closed temporarily due to reported cases, most remained open and gave students lessons on how to stay healthy and avoid spreading illnesses. Above, the traditional ABCs were replaced with A(H1N1) as a student in Manila learned about the virus on June 1.

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In June, the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled the swine flu outbreak as the first pandemic since the 1968 Hong Kong flu. In July, the WHO said it would stop counting and tracking swine flu cases and advised countries against harsh containment measures. Further spread of the pandemic was "considered inevitable," the WHO said. Above, in Ahmedabad, India, on Aug. 11, a teacher instructs a mask-wearing class. As of Sept. 2, India reported 106 deaths from swine flu.

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Clean hands: The swine flu outbreak has led to a renewed emphasis in many schools on general hygiene as a tool in reducing the spread of influenza. Although the WHO is working with national health authorities and drug companies to develop vaccines for the A(H1N1) virus, it is still emphasizing masks and hand-washing to reduce the spread. Above, students at Dubai's United International Private School watch a presentation about effective hand-washing on Aug. 31, part of lectures and discussions the school held to prevent infectious disease.

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Taking cover: Although masks have become common tools of influenza prevention at many schools, including the one shown above in Yala province, Thailand, on Aug. 6, the WHO emphasizes that masks alone do not guarantee safety. Improper use of masks can actually increase risks of transmission if, for example, an infected person does not dispose of the mask properly. Hand-washing and avoiding people with symptoms are important even where masks are in use.

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Entrance exam: South Korean students at a university in Seoul have their temperature tested before entering class on Aug. 27. To slow the spread of the swine flu virus, the South Korean government announced last week that primary- and secondary-school students will have their temperature taken every day to quickly identify anyone infected. Classrooms will also be frequently sterilized and group activities minimized. The South Korean government is also preparing a major vaccination campaign for November.

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Sick and tired: Students suffering from swine flu rest at an Islamic boarding school in Malang, Indonesia, on July 30. The Indonesian Health Ministry is asking those with influenza symptoms to stay home from school or work for five days and see a doctor if symptoms do not improve after two days. 

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Smoke it out: Students scramble for cover in Ahmedabad, India, on Aug. 11 as their school is fumigated by health workers to help prevent further swine flu infections. A number of schools, including Bangalore's National Law School of India University, have been closed temporarily, and local governments are pursuing other attempts at prevention, such as increasing the frequency of garbage collection. In the city of Pune, school attendance has been fairly normal, but one principal told the Times of India that only 10 to 20 percent of his students are following the recommendation to wear masks. 

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Chinese parents wait outside as a school is decontaminated by white-suited health officials on Aug. 31 in Lanzhou. China has enforced strict measures to slow the spread of swine flu, including quarantining some visiting international students in their hotel. Local students are required to have their temperatures taken daily and are to be kept home if they have come into contact with someone infected. In Eastern China, the government announced that officials at a high school will be punished for failing to make regular temperature checks after 109 students were infected at the school. 

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School's out: Indian students in Pune look at the locked gates of a school on Aug. 4, closed after the July 29 death of a 14-year-old girl -- India's first known swine flu fatality. Although India has documented 106 swine flu deaths and more than 4,000 confirmed cases, these numbers represent a minuscule portion of the country's 1.2 billion people. The hysteria is "totally disproportionate to the overall reality of the disease," an India-based WHO official told the Associated Press. Nevertheless, many moms and dads the world over have no qualms about going whole hog to protect their children.

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