On Campus

France targets schools in fight against swine flu

If three students in a class or social group fall ill, entire school will be closed for six days

France will launch a huge swine flu information and prevention campaign once schools begin reopening at the end of the month, authorities said Tuesday.

Officials will distribute 12 million posters to parents and students across the country of 63 million people, or roughly to every fifth person, Education Minister Luc Chatel told reporters.

Authorities will also instruct school communities on preventive hygienic measures, such as wiping one’s mouth and nose with tissue when sneezing or coughing, washing hands regularly and avoiding contact with sick people.

“My responsibility … is to inform, explain and assure the whole education community,” Chatel said. He added that that government’s goal was to make sure the public is alerted and warned about the swine flu threat, but was not panicking and “dramatizing” the issue.

Chatel reiterated the authorities’ intention to order entire schools closed if as few as three students in one class, or three students in one school who share lessons or eat lunch in the same cafeteria, fall ill with the flu. Schools will be reopened after six days and a thorough cleaning, he said. Such closures will be determined by local authorities on a case-by-case basis.

In case numerous schools are closed, lessons will be broadcast on state television and radio to help students keep up, Chatel said.

Chatel also said authorities have no plans so far to launch an obligatory, country-wide vaccination campaign for school children, saying that parents could opt to vaccinate their children individually.

France has had more than 690 confirmed cases of swine flu. One death has been linked to the virus, but authorities say the patient – a 14-year-old girl – also suffered from a number of other conditions. Experts expect more outbreaks once the school year resumes and the regular flu season starts in the fall.

Laurence Danon, spokeswoman for the Health Ministry, said France was well prepared to cope with the virus and had enough anti-viral drugs in case of a major outbreaks. She would not give more details.

The U.S. government is pushing to keep schools open, recommending earlier this month that schools only close if large numbers of students have swine flu.

– The Canadian Press

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