First H1N1 "Scare" — and the School Year Hasn't Even Started Yet

thermometer, H1N1, swine fluI thought we'd at least start the school year before we had our first H1N1 scare.

But no.

It's going to be a LONG school year.


I am an anxious person, in general, but I don't tend to freak out about germs or health news stories that get overly amped up by the news media, the most recent being the H1N1 or "swine flu" virus.

I find the information the news media generally presents is unhelpful to the average parent who will, in all probability, be faced with some encounter with the virus this school year, as we are every year with the regular seasonal flu. The stories tend toward the frantic "bad news" stories instead of reassuring the groups that might be affected and giving real advice about what to look for or how to proceed when you've come in contact with the virus.

So it's no wonder then, when my son's summer program had its first confirmed H1N1 case, I wasn't sure what to do.

My husband arrived on a Tuesday to drop off Clyde at his summer program and found an H1N1 exposure notice on the door. It was also a Tuesday following the Saturday that Clyde had a fever and the day I was keeping our younger son Leo home from preschool because he started having the same kind of fever and congestion symptoms.

My initial response was not a overarching fear for my kids' lives. I could see my kids. I knew their health was fine. Clyde's mild fever came and went. And even with a low-grade fever, Leo had tons of energy and was nowhere near lethargic, was not having trouble breathing, and did not appear to have any other aches and pains.

My fear was more about our spreading H1N1, if indeed that's what it was, to high-risk groups particularly to some pregnant women in our lives. Leo had attended a family party over the weekend with our pregnant cousin, and one of Leo's preschool teachers and another close family friend are both pregnant.

So I picked up Clyde and took both kids to the doctor — just to rule out H1N1. The doc looked them over and declared this not to be a flu although he did not perform a test on them. He said he sees two cases of H1N1 a day (wow!), and the boys' symptoms were much too mild to be it. He advised me to watch for difficulty breathing, so bad they can't walk across the room, and, as always with anyone, high fevers or fevers for several days.

I decided to keep Clyde out of his summer program for the rest of the week, but I'm not sure I even know why I did that. I mean, if he was exposed, he was exposed already. And with all the flus we encounter, this is just another "you can run, but you can't hide" type of illness — I mean, if you want to maintain contact with the outside world. And did I mention the child with the confirmed case of H1N1 is fine? As with most cases, he got better and nothing bad happened to him.

Honestly, I think I kept Clyde out that week because I was afraid what people would think if we kept him in. It was mostly a case of "fear of bad mommy" syndrome. Also, I wanted friends and family to feel "safe" around us. I don't really believe keeping Clyde out was necessary or even helpful or beneficial.

Leo's fevers did last a few days, and he got a hefty runny nose; however, his energy remained up, he continued to eat, and there was no sign of breathing trouble at all. And by the end of the week, he felt better too.

Then a few evenings ago, I woke up in the night with fevers. I was freezing for hours and later hot. My body and head ached. My nose was running like crazy. I may not be anxious about news stories, but I am a hypochondriac about my own health, and these were real symptoms to back it up. Flu symptoms (ones my boys may or may not have also had). I was sure I was going to die any minute from H1N1 that, apparently, my boys had tolerated much better than me.

After a trip to the doctor and a test for flu (a swab up the nose), I was deemed "sick with something viral" with "no flu." And I was relieved.


But alas, if this recent experience is any indication about the upcoming school year, I'm not sure I know how I'll handle it. You really don't know what you'll do until you're faced with the situation, and then you have to do whatever you need to do. You may have a gut response and an actual response like I did, especially when the news media teaches us to react with fear.

I do feel I am slightly more confident in my intuition about the health of my children, but I still don't know if I would do anything differently. Whatever you have to do to sleep at night, right?

Yes, H1N1, like most flus, can be serious and even deadly to certain high-risk groups (those with existing cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and cancer, pregnant women, and possibly obese people) and even, in more rare cases, healthy people. However, I'd be willing to bet the people who have died from it were not jumping off the couch and driving their mothers bonkers right before they died or driving themselves to the doctor to get checked. More likely, they became very ill, yes, sometimes very quickly, but surely they were very sick individuals before things turned grim.

Please remember, per the World Health Organization: The H1N1 symptoms include: "fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and runny nose, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea." Also, "to prevent spread [of H1N1], people should cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, stay home when they are unwell, clean their hands regularly, and avoid crowded areas where possible."

As the new school year begins, what are your thoughts and feelings about H1N1 and how do deal with fear and worry about exposure?

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