The number of Minnesota schools reporting outbreaks of the new pandemic flu doubled -- again-- last week to 134, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday.
Doubling each week since classes started, the reports of H1N1 flu are an acceleration that health officials fully expected, and which apparently has not yet peaked.
Almost half the state's counties are reporting at least one school with an absentee rate of 5 percent or more. The greatest number are in the Twin Cities area. But there are 3,000 schools in the state, and the vast majority have not yet reported outbreaks, said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for the Health Department.
Nasal spray first to arrive
Meanwhile, state health officials said they placed the first order for H1N1 vaccine, which they say will arrive in about two weeks. It will be a nasal spray, not an injection type, because that is the first to come from the five different vaccine manufacturers.
But the two groups at the top of the priority list for vaccine, children under the age of 2 and pregnant women, cannot use it. So the first to receive the vaccine will be health care workers, even though they are third on the priority list, said Ehresmann.
There is no way of knowing exactly how many students are sick from the new virus. The Health Department asks schools only to report when absenteeism reaches 5 percent of the student body, and the actual number could be much higher.
In the St. Paul school district, four programs, including Central High School, have had at least five percent of the student population out with flu-like symptoms.
The alternative West 7th PAS program, which serves 20 students, was closed for two days because 13 of the students and 90 percent of the staff had symptoms.
The district won't be quick to close any other schools, officials said, because it is disruptive for families.
State health officials are advising parents to keep sick students home until they have been fever-free for 24 hours, without the aid of fever-reducing medications. For most kids, recovery should take five to seven days.
So far this month, more than 300 people in Minnesota have been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms, but only about 50 have tested positive for H1N1, state officials said. Since the pandemic began in May, three people in Minnesota have died from the virus. Children age 5 to 18 have accounted for nearly 40 percent of the confirmed cases, according to the Health Department, followed by adults age 25 to 49.
Health officials said they expect even more reports of school outbreaks.
The good news for schools is that the outbreak does pass, said Principal Dick Oscarson of Eastview Elementary School in Lakeville. A week after a fourth of his students were home sick, all have returned to school, he said.
Staff writer Emily Johns contributed to this report. Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394