With nearly 500 US deaths from swine flu, the top American health official on Sunday urged educators and parents to take measures to prevent and address the A(H1N1) virus.
"We want every parent to have at a minimum a back-up childcare plan, to know if their child gets sick, who's going to be home and take care of that child? What's the alternate caregiver strategy?" Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told ABC television on Sunday.
AdvertisementThe A(H1N1) flu virus is a particular concern for schools because it seems to have disproportionately affected youth, with US summer camps reporting outbreaks across the United States.
"This virus spreads quickly child to child. Schools are taking preparation to get ready with hand sanitizers and frequent hand-washing," Sebelius said.
"Hopefully, we will engage schools as good vaccination partners. We anticipate having school-based vaccination clinics as soon as they're available and getting kids the protection that they need."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported 477 swine flu deaths across the United States as of late last week.
The World Health Organization said that as of August 6, there are 1,462 reported deaths from the virus, but noted that this figure likely underreports the true number of fatalities.
US news reports this month said the US government was planning for a worst-case scenario in which up to 40 percent of the American workforce could be affected by swine flu -- either directly contracting the virus or having to stay home to look after an affected relative.
But Sebelius stressed on CNN Sunday that those were only the gloomiest prognostications.
"We're playing out a whole variety of scenarios. We're preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," she told CNN, adding that preparations were on course for the development of a vaccine by October -- although she said it would take weeks to fully inoculate prospective patients.
"We're still optimistic that we'll have a vaccine available about the 15th of October, but the regimen will take about five weeks," Sebelius told CNN.
She said that there will be a three week delay after a first shot is administered before a second shot can be given, then another two weeks until full immunity kicks in.
"So we really need to work between now and Thanksgiving (late November) with lots of social mitigation -- keeping kids home from school if they're sick," she said.