August 28th, 2009
12:06 PM ET

H1N1 and preschoolers

By Caleb Hellerman
CNN Senior Medical Producer

In the midst of covering the big story of Senator Kennedy’s death on Wednesday, I found myself frantically scrambling for childcare arrangements – the preschool teacher for my 15-month-old son had gone home sick with a 102-degree fever, and the classroom assistant was running out to pick up her own son, with similar symptoms. The head of the preschool stepped in for the afternoon, but did I really want to send my son back on Thursday? To a teacher and a bunch of toddlers who might or might not have been exposed to a nasty virus?

A year ago I might not have fretted, but I’ve got swine flu on the brain – maybe from covering the story here at CNN, or maybe it’s just that I keep seeing reports of cases here, cases there, all over the country. Last week CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said we’re in a race to make a vaccine available before the H1N1 virus hits. To my eyes, the race is over. The outbreak has started. It may not be the Black Plague, but especially for vulnerable people – like pregnant women, people with underlying illness, or 15-month-old toddlers – it can be quite serious. And anyone with children in school or daycare (we’ve also got a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old) knows that viruses spread fast.

I always teach handwashing and try to use hand sanitizer, but most years I throw up my hands and just accept that the kids will spend a lot of their school year sick. This year, that doesn’t sound so appealing. Our preschool doesn’t yet have a formal plan to deal with H1N1, and neither do a lot of schools in Atlanta – or around the country. My wife, who fortunately happens to be a physician and public health official working on this very issue, is frantically working on detailed guidance for parents at our own preschool. In the meantime, we kept our son home Thursday and Friday. He’s got a cold. No fever, nothing serious – but we’ll just let him rest and go back Monday.

Are you doing anything differently this year, to keep your kids from getting sick?

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