This article is from North Carolina’s Winston-Salem Journal
Getting dirty is as much a part of the summer-camp experience as campfire songs and swimming.
But this summer, cleanliness has made its way onto the agenda, as summer camps try to prevent outbreaks of H1N1 flu, or swine flu.
In North Carolina, 47 people became ill with symptoms of the H1N1 virus after spending a week at a Boy Scout camp in Haywood County, and flu outbreaks have been reported at several other summer camps, including at Duke University and in Randolph County.
The virus has spread in more than 50 summer camps nationwide, Thomas R. Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a White House summit on H1N1 preparedness last week.
At area camps, counselors and other staff members are emphasizing washing and sanitizing hands to campers who are playing, eating and bunking together.
“We’re certainly concerned about swine flu and its potential to spread quickly,” said Michaux Crocker, the director of Camp Cheerio, a residential camp in Alleghany County.
Because the virus is spread through coughing, sneezing and touching, camps are a prime breeding ground for the flu, said Jeffrey Engel, the N.C. State Health Director.
“Children have been the main target of the virus; camps are full of children in cabins and children generally have poor hygiene,” Engel said.
Stokes County’s one reported case of the flu most likely came after a teen-ager was exposed to the virus at a church camp in Guilford County in mid-June, said Josh Swift, the health director for the county.
The boy has been isolated and is responding well to treatment, Swift said.
Swift has spoken with camp directors in Stokes County about the virus.
“What I’ve seen from camps is that they are being very proactive,” he said.
News of outbreaks and individual cases around the state prompted Keith Bobbitt, the director at Camp Raven Knob in Surry County, and his staff to review the camp’s health plans and come up with new ways to keep the virus at bay.
Raven Knob is affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. It’s crucial that troop leaders assess a boy’s health before he comes to camp, Bobbitt said.
“We’ve asked them to contact Scouts and their parents and have them check the boys for fever before they leave home,” he said.
Upon arrival, the boys’ temperatures are taken, because a fever is one of the flu’s main symptoms. A boy with a fever will be isolated, and if H1N1 is suspected, he’ll be sent home, along with the boys and leaders with whom he rode to camp. So far, no camper has had H1N1 flu.
Bobbitt said he has also asked counselors and leaders to remind boys to wash their hands. Bottles of hand sanitizer and soap and water have been placed throughout the camp.
“Most people are not used to the flu running through the summer,” Bobbitt said. “We have tried to work with it and be prepared. Everybody is washing their hands at every turn.”
The camp staff has posted its H1N1 plan on its Web site. Like most camps, medical personnel are on staff.
Camp Cheerio is also taking precautions.
“We have always encouraged the use of hand sanitizers and ask the children on check-in day about having a fever in the last week. But we’ve tried up our diligence on that,” Crocker said. “We now ask whether they’ve had a fever in the last two weeks.”
If the answer is “yes,” the camp doctor will assess his or her health.
Children who run a fever while camp is in session are isolated and parents are notified.
If they are deemed a risk by the camp doctor, they will be sent back home.
Crocker said that he is following guidelines spelled out by the American Camp Association, an accreditation agency.
A typical week session at Camp Cheerio will have 300 campers with 10 to 14 campers sleeping in the same room.
“We are wiping down door knobs and more public surfaces than we have in the past,” Crocker said.
Tim Monroe, the director of public health in Forsyth County, said that the health department issued some guidelines to camps and are monitoring H1N1 cases in the county.
So far, the county has had no cases of H1N1 flu associated with a camp, Monroe said.
As of last Wednesday, the county had 9 cases of the flu, according to the N.C. Division of Public Health. Statewide, 57 new cases were reported last week, bringing the number of cases in the state to 311.
With the number of cases on the rise, Engle said he and other state officials are looking ahead to the school year.
The N.C. Division of Public Health and the Department of Public Instruction are discussing ways to prevent an outbreak. A vaccine could be ready in October; however, it must first be tested for safety and effectiveness. If the vaccine is approved, schoolchildren will be among the first candidates to be immunized, Engel said.
North Carolina will be getting about $7 million in federal money to prepare for an outbreak, Engel said.
“That sounds like a lot of money but believe me, when you have to send that to 85 local health departments, it goes pretty fast,” he said.
The Winston-Salem Forsyth County school system is taking its lead from the county health department, said spokesman Theo Helm.
“We treat it just like normal influenza. The health department has directed us to clean as we normally do and teach kids hygiene as we normally do,” Helm said. In the case of an outbreak, county health officials would also decide whether to close the schools, he said.