Pickerington Local School District officials are taking measures to thwart seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus, also known as "swine flu."

Pickerington Local School District officials are taking measures to thwart seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus, also known as "swine flu."

On Monday, school health coordinator Sharon Schmitz said the district has ordered hand sanitizer units, which will be installed in cafeterias at all district schools upon arrival from distributors. She added that public service announcements about H1N1, seasonal flu and preventing their spread will be broadcast weekly during schools' morning announcements.

Additionally, district officials are urging students to wash hands frequently and cover coughs and sneezes to avoid spreading flu gems.

But school staff membes and administrators also are hoping to cut off H1N1 and seasonal flu outbreaks among students and teachers by telling those who fall ill to stay home.

"With H1N1, it's really the same thing we do with any flu -- stay home," Superintendent Karen Mantia said Monday during a Pickerington Board of Education meeting.

To make sure Pickerington schools don't contribute to the spread of H1N1 locally, the district is mailing flu-prevention information to students' homes. It's also providing regularly updated H1N1 information on its Web site, www.pickerington.k12.oh.us.

"Our policy has always been that students with flu must be fever-free without medication for 24 hours before they come back to school," Schmitz said. "People also should adhere to routine cleaning practices, like frequently washing their hands."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10 to 20 percent of U.S. residents get seasonal flu each year and an average of about 36,000 people per year in the U.S. die from it.

The CDC further estimates approximately 200,000 people per year are hospitalized as a result of seasonal flu.

Concerns among health officials throughout the world are even higher this year, however, because of the H1N1 virus, which the World Health Organization has said already reached pandemic levels.

As of Sept. 20, the World Health Organization reported there have been more than 300,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1; there have been 3,917 deaths in 191 countries and territories.

In Fairfield County, there have been two confirmed H1N1 cases. Health officials said both persons have recovered.

Later this month, the federal government is expected to release an H1N1 virus vaccine. It will be distributed throughout Fairfield County by the county health department.

"The health department is going to have strike teams come out to the schools," Schmitz said. "If parents consent to it, then students in K-12 will be vaccinated, free of charge.

"We don't want (parents) to panic," she said. "We are doing everything we can to try to keep the kids safe and in school.

"Should someone become ill, we're trying to get them up and out of here as quickly as possible. But if a student is sick, they should be kept home."

nellis@thisweeknews.com