Swine Flu Prevention on Top of Back-to-School List

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WASHINGTON -- Government officials are getting ready in case there's a swine flu epidemic this fall and that has schools and workplaces on high alert.

Experts worry that the virus could "explode" soon, striking in the U.S. and around the world.

Fighting the virus was among the main topics at a two-day, North American Summit between President Barack Obama and the leaders of Mexico and Canada.

They're coordinating plans to contain outbreaks before the first vaccines become available to the public sometime in mid-October.

So as millions of children prepare for a brand-new school year, parents are preoccupied with more than the usual back-to-school necessities like notebooks, lunch sacks, and backpacks.

"Hand sanitizer's always on the list, even before swine flu," said Oregon mom Shalaia Walters.

"I'm always on them all the time. 'Wash your hands, sanitize.' When they're at school, I always send them with a little sanitizer to be safe," another mother said.

Moms aren't not the only ones thinking safety -- so are school districts across the country.

Tthey told us to wash all classrooms. All the walls, the bathrooms, the water fountains," school custodian Gloria Thompson said.

Swine flu made its debut in Mexico last spring and when it made its way to the U.S., fear and a lack of information about the new strain prompted some schools with infected children to cancel classes.

With more time to study the virus and a vaccine underway, schools are better prepared to handle potential outbreaks.

"Everyone's on red alert about this, just anticipating, being ready in case it should be something we need to be concerned about," said Leslie Robinette with Clackamas Schools in Milwaukie, Ore.

The H1N1 virus triggered a global pandemic infecting people in about 170 countries and more than 1,100 deaths -- 436 in the U.S.

And even though it has been relatively quiet this summer, health officials anticipate a second wave that trigger many more cases once the weather begins to cool down.

Making matters worse, the virus is separate from the regular seasonal flu, which could add to the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

Still, the government is discouraging closing schools.

"When you close a school, you have real social costs. You may reduce the spread of flu for a period of time, but you also increase the number of kids who may be unsupervised," said Dr. Thomas Frieden with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just some of the problems officials face as they figure out how to handle a potential deadly flu outbreak.

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