School's swine flu secrecy irks some parents

Colleen is so hygienic she insists her "smelly" teenage boys take a shower before sitting on the living room sofa.

The mother was flabbergasted to learn Wednesday morning that a student at Findlay Middle School, her son's school, had been sick with the swine flu. School officials had not notified parents.

"I want to thank the school for letting me know, and I'm reeking of sarcasm," said Colleen, who asked that her last name not be used.

"This is a case of authority pulling the wool over our eyes," she said outside the school at Tropical Parkway and Commerce Street in North Las Vegas.

Rob Rosales, the father of a 12-year-old seventh-grader, was worried that his daughter might bring the virus home to his 3-month-old baby.

"It's a little scary," Rosales said. "Maybe the best thing to do would be to close the school down. It would be tragic to have a lot of kids get the disease."

The infected student, an 11-year-old boy, has recovered and is not contagious, and his family members have tested negative for swine flu, Nellis Air Force Base officials said. The boy is a military dependent.

The boy has been out of school for a week and half. School officials would not confirm whether he was back at school on Wednesday.

Clark County School District officials are unaware of any more swine flu cases at Findlay or anywhere else in the school system. And school officials have not seen a rise in absences at Findlay.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta no longer is recommending that schools close when a student is determined to have swine flu. Clark County School District officials have no plans to close Findlay and would follow the lead of the Southern Nevada Health District before making such a decision.

Findlay, like all public schools, is cleaned and disinfected daily.

Although the swine flu scare appears to be easing, school officials said they understand the public's desire for more information. Michael Rodriguez, a school spokesman, said staff must "walk a thin line" between the public's safety and protecting a person's privacy.

Rodriguez said identifying the school "was dangerously close" to identifying the student. Officials worry about running afoul of HIPAA, an acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The federal law protects personal health information.

If they had identified Findlay, school officials worried they would have created innuendo and hysteria. For instance, people might falsely accuse other students of having the disease.

"You have to be careful on how you communicate. You don't want to ensue a panic," said Terri Janison, president of the school board, who approved the handling of the situation.

School officials also did not know the Findlay student had been sick with the swine flu until they got confirmation from the health district Tuesday morning. Within an hour, they scheduled a news conference with health officials.

Though the school district did not identify Findlay at the news conference, that fact was later confirmed after it was leaked to the press.

Ruth Fierro, a mother of a Findlay student, thought the school district has been "informative" in making parents aware of the swine flu threat. She got a generic letter encouraging families to wash their hands and letting children stay home if sick.

Fierro understood school officials had to be cautious not to identify the sick student.

"This is a very personal situation," she said. "You have to respect the individual."

Cindy, another mother who asked that her last name not be used, learned about the Findlay connection to swine flu after watching TV news on Tuesday night.

"Yes, I am worried," Cindy said. "I would have liked to have been told in advance."

She also realized that school officials have "to handle it the way they handle it."

Cindy was tempted to keep her children home Wednesday. "I thought about it, but they need their education."

Contact reporter James Haug at or 702-374-7917.


A spokeswoman for St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson confirmed Wednesday that a patient at the St. Rose San Martin campus is being treated for swine flu.

Because of federal privacy laws, spokeswoman Sasha Jackowich said she could not go into detail about the case. But Brian Labus, a senior epidemiologist with the Southern Nevada Health District, said the 39-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital, in the southwest valley, about a week and a half ago in critical condition.

“She’s improving now,” he said.

Labus said authorities have no idea how the woman contracted the disease. He said that because of her illness, it has been difficult to learn whether she had any underlying health problems. “We haven’t been able to interview her,” he said. She has been too ill.

He said that because of the woman’s relatively youthful age, she “is not someone you would expect to become so ill from influenza.”

Tracy Puckett, director of infection control and critical care at University Medical Center, said federal instructions for caring for a swine flu patients consist of having individuals isolated in their own room. Staffers working with the patient wear masks and gloves. If some kind of procedure were done on a patient, staffers would wear gowns also.

“We don’t want to pass on the virus to anyone else,” Puckett said, adding that masks and gloves and gowns would be disposed of after the patient is seen.

Dr. L.D. Brown, director of the state public health laboratory, said Wednesday that Southern Nevada officials still are awaiting test results on seven possible swine flu samples sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

He also said state labs in Reno and Las Vegas have been cleared by the CDC to run swine flu confirmation tests.

“We hope to cut 48 to 72 hours off the time it takes to get confirmation,” Brown said. “And we’ll save the money we’re spending sending the samples FedEx overnight.”

Until Wednesday, Brown said preliminary testing could be done in Nevada, but samples then would have to be sent to the CDC to determine whether swine flu was the specific type of influenza involved.

Brown said that from April 25 until Wednesday the state lab had worked with 457 samples.