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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hands-Off Plan: Schools Ban Touching To Fight H1N1

Glen Cove District Students Urged To Have No Skin-On-Skin Contact With Swine Flu Outbreak Looming
Parents Told To Provide Kids With Tissues, Hand Sanitizer, Ibuprofen

NEW YORK (CBS) ― As students across America prepare to head back to school, officials and parents are bracing for a spike in swine flu cases. With the possibility that nearly 2 million people will be hospitalized, and 90,000 people across the country could die, one Long Island school district is taking no chances and has set into place a new "hands-off" approach to fighting the swine flu.

Chest bumps. High fives. Hugs and handshakes. Glen Cove Middle School students Ali Slaughter and Hannah Seltzer say that's what friends do on the first day of school. But when students in the Nassau community return to school next week, the superintendent will be urging abstinence. Everyone from the tiniest tots to the biggest high school football players will be asked to limit skin-on-skin contact in an attempt to prevent the spread of swine flu when it re-emerges this fall.

"It will [be hard] because you really like your friends and you didn't get to see them," Seltzer tells CBS 2.

Glen Cove high schooler Erica Cohen is on the soccer team, but says she knows even in a game that involves close physical content, she'll have to be as careful as she can be.

"I don't really think it's such a big deal, if you wash your hands after -- I think it's just you really can't avoid it," she says.

Lorena Galo filled out her health form and decided she can't give up hugging. "We're still going to hug either way," she says.

The policy is unorthodox and could be difficult to enforce, but Nassau Health Commissioner Dr. Maria Torroella Carney says it's a good way to educate awareness.

"Many people are trying to think outside of the box, creatively, how to minimize spread of the illness, how to protect others, and I applaud that thinking," she says.

Glen Cove parent Leonard Imperial thinks no touching is an overreaction.

"Unfortunately people get sick with flu and die every year, but I don't think this one is any different or particular that we have to worry about," he says.

But Parent Angela Hamel is already urging her sons follow the new guidelines.

"The high fives, I think just to cut down on transmission, it's probably good idea," she says. "I think it's a good way to prevent."

And many other parents seem to agree.

"Less contact would mean less germs and less illnesses and I think it's a good recommendation," says Donna Sita.

While they fear the spread of swine flu, health officials say they are more concerned about the possibility of widespread anxiety or panic when school begins. Officials are asking families to have tissues, ibuprofen and hand sanitizers on hand for students. School superintendants are gathering Thursday on Long Island to discuss prevention and address other concerns

CBS 2's Dr. Holly Phillips is weighing in on the swine flu preparations in Nassau County. She says she think officials are doing the right thing in pushing H1N1 education, but she says there are many other ways to get the virus besides touching one another.

"Hysteria should be avoided, but it's good that the school district is emphasizing keeping kids safe. Not touching won't prevent transmission. The virus can live on surfaces and be transmitted via coughs and sneezes," she says.

So why is talk of the swine flu cropping up again, and when will it hit its peak?

"It never left, but like the seasonal flu, we're expecting it to pick up in October and hit its peak during the winter months when we're closed inside and the illness is more easily transmitted," Phillips says. "The Center for Disease Control is expecting between 30 and 50 percent of Americans will be affected by it."

As for the swine flu vaccine, Phillips says it should be out by mid-October, but at that time there will not be enough for everyone. She expects by the end of the year there will be 200 million doses available.

In the meantime, there are steps people can take to protect their families.

"Stay home if you're sick. Wash your hands," says Phillips. "Get to the doctor early with symptoms because anti-viral medications can shorten the course of the illness."

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