- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 19, 2009

At summer camp in 2009, hand-sanitizing, temperature-taking and a triage for who might need Tamiflu are part of daily activities, right along with swimming, basketball and crafts.

Fears of an H1N1 - or swine flu - pandemic have abated somewhat since spring. But that doesn’t mean people, particularly young people, aren’t getting sick. Part of the hallmark of the H1N1 virus - which for most people turns out to be a mild case of the flu - is that it is sweeping through the United States during the summer months, traditionally the “off-season” for most flu strains.

This has meant extra vigilance on the part of public health officials, camp directors, parents and campers.

“It is very real, and it is not going away,” said Joe Quimby, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Through Friday, CDC statistics show Maryland has had 732 confirmed cases of H1N1. The District has reported 45, with 319 in Virginia. Nationally, 40,617 cases and 263 deaths have been verified.

However, Mr. Quimby says those numbers “are just the tip of the iceberg.” He estimates the real number of H1N1 cases is more like 1 million to 1.5 million, as the vast majority of people falling ill this summer do not go through formal testing.

Six camps in Maryland have reported outbreaks and “have all acted appropriately to address the health and safety of the children,” said Fran Phillips, deputy secretary for public health services for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“There is no reason that parents should be concerned about sending a child away to camp,” she said. “The flu is everywhere. Camps are monitoring kids’ behaviors a bit better, but there is not an increased number of incidents at camp.”

Still, some camps have been hit hard. At Sandy Hill Camp in Cecil County, Md., 25 campers were sent home from their two-week session in late June because of flu. The camp eventually cut short that session and sent remaining campers home, the camp’s director, Greg Joseph, said in an e-mail.

“Nearly everyone was very understanding of the decision and many have expressed their appreciation for our proactive response as the situation developed,” Mr. Joseph said. “The decision to shorten the first two-week session was a difficult one, but we continue to put the health and safety of our campers as the highest priority.”

Sandy Hill is now running smoothly with no more than the typical visits to the health center, he said. Hand sanitizer is kept on the tables in the dining hall, and shared surfaces such as doorknobs are disinfected daily. On the camp’s Web site, parents can read a daily health update about the status of campwide temperature checks and whether anyone has fallen ill.

“For the last 2 1/2 weeks, we have been taking the temperatures of all campers and staff twice each day,” said Mr. Joseph. “Campers or staff that develop elevated temperatures or flulike symptoms at any time during the camp session are evaluated by the camp medical staff. Campers’ parents are notified, and any unhealthy campers are sent home. Any unhealthy staff members either go home [if home is nearby] or are isolated here at camp for seven days from the onset of their symptoms or until they have been fever-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer, as recommended by the CDC.”

Adam Levine, 14, of Reston, was similarly quarantined when flu affected his camp, Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, Pa., in early July.

At drop-off day in late June, staff members took campers’ temperatures, and parents were asked to sign a release form authorizing the dispensing of antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu should their child be exposed to the flu, said Adam’s mother, Laurie.

Shortly after, Mrs. Levine got an e-mail saying her son had a slight fever and headache and was being given Tamiflu. He later spent five nights in the infirmary, as it is camp protocol to isolate suspected sick children.

“I was impressed with the way the camp handled it,” said Mrs. Levine, whose son has since recovered and has rejoined his fellow campers.

A spokesman for the Union of Reform Judaism, which sponsors the camp, said that 57 children at Camp Harlam were infected with the flu as of Friday. Most have recovered, and the camp never had to close. Meanwhile, URJ camps in Georgia and California have delayed opening or have ended a session early because of the flu.

The flu outbreak has definitely had an effect on camps and campers with special medical needs. The Muscular Dystrophy Association has canceled plans for 45 camps in 35 states, including Camp Maria in Leonardtown, Md.

The American Lung Association has advised closing camps for children with asthma.

“Due to the immediate threat of H1N1, the national headquarters of the American Lung Association has recommended to all of our affiliate organizations [that sponsor asthma camps] to cancel asthma camps planned for the remainder of the summer,” association spokeswoman Heather Grzelka said. “While seasonal influenza is typically not common during the summer months, the H1N1 influenza strain has been more widespread this summer. Influenza poses a special health risk to children with asthma, so an abundance of caution must be exercised to best protect the health and welfare of these more vulnerable kids.”

The American Camp Association, the professional group that provides health and safety accreditation for more than 2,400 camps, has been working with the CDC and individual camps to provide monitoring strategies and prevent spread of the illness, CEO Peg Smith said.

“The camps affected are fewer than those not affected,” she said. “Most kids are going to camp and having a normal camp experience. But all of us have heightened precautions, and due diligence is being taken, as it should be. Most camps are screening kids the minute they arrive.”

Ms. Smith said camps have been flexible about delayed arrivals, advising if a child is running a fever they should remain out of camp until they are well. Camps have also been sharing strategies to quell the spread of germs, such as staggering beds or placing them head to foot so campers are not breathing on one another all night.

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