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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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. KAREN


    August 28, 2009 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jen3951

    With so many questions about this disease and the vaccine it is almost impossible to decide if it is worse to get the disease or risk potential side effects of the vaccine. I am a healthcare worker and the mother of an 18-month old. Will you be giving your children the vaccine?

    August 28, 2009 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Minh Do

    I am a physician and i contact 3 different wholeseller inquiring about the availability of flu vaccine. All three diatributors confirm that their warehouses have plenty of vaccine but the FDA does not allow them to ship out to clinic and physicians' offices yet.

    Does anybody nwow the reason behind FDA action?

    August 28, 2009 at 18:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Traci Colson McCowan

    I work for a Head Start program in North Carolina where we serve 460 preschoolers ages (3-5 years old). I'm trying to put in place a policy and procedure for H1N1 with some assistance from our Health Service Advisory Committee which has various health professionals within the community this program serves. But, I'm wanting to receive important information from the CDC which relates to small children and pregnant women. Telling daycare providers how to take various steps.

    August 28, 2009 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Diana

    I agree that they will be sick just as much and I plan on keeping my children home more often if they are sick as to not spread the germs but I wish other parents would do the same. In fact we had runny noses this week & i kep tthem home their last day of school but the previous day when I dropped off there was a child there coughing up a storm and you know that he didn't just start that coughing in the 2 minutes that we arrived. The parent had to know that the child was ill & should of kept him home.

    I am a stay at home mom & can afford to keep my kids home but I know that working parents might not be so lucky. I do wish that they would be a little more considerate as my children were premature and I worry that their immune system isn't as good as it should be.

    So preschool is tough but they are suppose to be there for speech therapy not just as a daycare.

    August 29, 2009 at 00:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Shirley Green

    I'm a cancer patient and have to go to my medical facility's lab, pharmacies, radiology, ER, and medical offices frequently. I'm very concerned about being immuno-compromised and having to sit in a reception area with people who are really sick with the H1N1 virus.

    Not long ago, as a woman was signing in, she was coughing so badly that she couldn't quit and you could tell it hurt her to cough. She then sat down next to me at which point I got up and went out into the hallway to wait to be called. Then, I had to sit with her again in the only waiting room inside. She was waiting for a chest x-ray. Her coughing continued. I found this extremely unfair to me and everyone else that she was not asked to put on a mask and to be isolated.

    Unless hospitals, labs, pharmacies, and medical offices set up quarantine areas and provide masks for people who may have this virus, a lot of weaker people who are there for other reasons are going to be exposed. I am very worried about this.

    August 29, 2009 at 03:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Debra Hill

    I find myself almost frantic and obsessed with hand washing and anti-flu preparations. Am I going over the top? I think I am scaring the family, especially my sixteen year old. I feel almost powerless to this upcoming pandemic of swine flu. What more can I do...more importantly how can I manage my fear of what is somewhat out of my control? I don't want to be obsessed with this overwhelming terror I feel, but on the other hand I feel I must do everything in my power to keep the virus away from my 3,11,14 and 16 year olds...as well as myself. I am a chronic pain patient with fibromyalgia and post cervical neck fusion surgery patient, not to mention all the meds I take daily that compramise my immune system.

    Please help me with information I need to know on how I can manage my fear and yet be prepared.

    Sincerely concerned,


    August 29, 2009 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Darla Malone

    We've pulled my son out of childcare. He had been going so that I could attend full time college courses. This semester I've found a way to take online classes so my son doesn't need to go to the pre-school.
    However, I have 3 other children... 17, 13 and 8 that will have to continue to go to school. I don't know what I'll so if they have a case of H1N1 in their school. Most likely, I'll bring them all home and have them do homework from here whether the school shuts its doors or not.

    August 30, 2009 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. L.Moore

    You are right. It has started. The cases here and there are the tip of the iceberg, As soon as the schools open up and the weather cools we will experience a surge in cases.
    I hope that business owners and schools read and put into use the CDC guidelines that are readily available on their website.
    I work in a NW hospital and we are gearing up.

    August 30, 2009 at 12:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. eashwer iyer

    How does H1N1 spread?

    August 30, 2009 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mandy

    we're considering keeping our 2yr old out of preschool to prevent him from catching H1N1 and bringing it home to his 6mth old sibling, but torn because it also feels like we're overreacting.

    August 31, 2009 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Billie

    As a teacher, I tell my students to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, cover their coughs, stay home when sick, etc. etc. I don't know how much of it they actually listen to. I am very concerned about H1N1 and have used so much hand sanitizer at work that my skin is really dry. I plan on taking the vaccine and wish they would hurry up with the production and distribution. I tell my students to not be afraid-but to be smart instead. I have a feeling that we all may be afraid if this thing gets really bad.

    August 31, 2009 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Bessie

    I think everyone should wear a face mask, until this flu season passes

    August 31, 2009 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Mandy

    Thank you Dr Gupta for posting the follow up information via the Parent's Guide. It is exactly the information that we needed. BIG THANKS!

    September 1, 2009 at 22:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jayme Scott

    I am extrmemly frightened for my four year old getting the H1N1 virus in preschool, not just for her but also my two month old baby. I think maybe I should not send her, they start next week. I don't know what to do! I don't want to seem overly paranoid but this is very serious and if my baby got sick I am just to scared to even think about it!

    I could homeschool her, I went to college for two years to be an elementary teacher and I do not work now. Does anyone think I should keep her home?

    September 4, 2009 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. jean

    I'm in the same vote! My 4 year old is due to start on the 15th this month and I'm really worried. Germs spread from small children very quickly. She does really need to be around kids her own age and to strengthen her language skills but at what cost. I'm really considering NOT sending her. How would I feel if she got really ill and then a vaccine came only months later. I vote NO! This is life or death in many cases. My family will probably think I'm crazy but...I dont know.

    September 9, 2009 at 05:00 | Report abuse | Reply

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