A Queens grandmother decided to take a
walk along the tree-lined streets in her neighborhood, and she asked her 11-year old
granddaughter to go along.
The youngster protested her grandmothers decision to venture out
without first taking precautions against a mosquito bite that could take her life.
"You shouldnt be out and walking," the girl said.
"Its too dangerous for older people."
The grandmother tried to lighten the girls mood by saying,
"I have black hair not gray. Maybe I can fool the mosquitoes."
The girls anger rose and she told her grandmother, "This
isnt funny. Dont turn this into fun.
"You have to protect yourself if you want to go out."
The youngster was just one of many city schoolchildren who are
being kept abreast by school officials of developments in the citys current
School officials told the Tribune that there is no hiding
anything from these kids. Theyre part of the information generation, hooked on
phonics and hooked into the information superhighway.
So it makes sense that the buzz in Queens schoolyards on the
first day of classes wasnt about new academic requirements, uniforms, or
"getting" left back. The real buzz was all about Encephalitis, and the spindly
critter whose bite can be fatal.
Students are showing up at school these days armed with spray-on
insecticides. Parents are armed also with a host of questions regarding safety
measures in the schools. They want to know what steps the Board of Education is taking to
keep infected mosquitoes out of classrooms.
City health officials have said repeatedly that the encephalitis bug
does not normally infest youngsters. The youngest reported case involves a 15-year old
Bronx youth who was hospitalized on Sept. 7 and remains in very critical condition.
Another teen, 17, has been recovering at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica since Sept.
9, when he was rushed there by his family. The teen complained of symptoms that mirrored
those diagnosed with St. Louis Encephalitis. The teen has not yet been positively
diagnosed with the disease.
Statistics aside, Queens school officials are not taking any chances.
"It doesnt matter that diagnosed cases involve only people
between 15 and 60 years old," said Helene Schomberg, an official at Community School
"We would rather be prepared to make sure our children are
safe," she said.
Letters went out to parents from the school board on the first day of
school, Schomberg said copies of a health alert issued by the New York City
Department of Health. The notice, in English and Spanish, discusses in clear terms just
what St. Louis Encephalitis is, how it is spread, and how doctors are able to treat
individual symptoms of the disease.
The notice is specific to the fact that there is no miracle cure, or
vaccine for the disease. It offers a series of clear suggestions for prevention of the
disease, including tips on how to safeguard homes and apartments from the mosquitoes that
carry the disease.
The letter sent by school boards also details methods being employed by
the city to squash the mosquitoes that carry the disease, including municipal spraying of
insecticide throughout the boroughs.
Teachers are utilizing instruction sessions for discussions about the
disease and the resulting health crisis.
There are no "outside" classes or recess periods.
Students are staying indoors, in auditoriums and gymnasiums at recess time, to prevent
possible exposure to the mosquitoes or the insecticide spray.
Parents are justifiably concerned ," said Matthew Bromme,
Superintendent District 27. Of a meeting with all district superintendents he added,
" We all said the same, lets just be extra careful."
Bromme said that his districts schools also sent parents letters
alerting them to spraying around the school area, and the custodians were instructed to
clean the area outside the school extra carefully. Though there was no district-wide
policy concerning how schools should handle the spraying, Bromme said that some District
principals did chose to keep their children inside all day.
In School District 26, "We kept all the children inside for the
first couple of days, but now that theyve said its safe to go out, were
letting them out," Deputy Superintendent Anita Saunders said.
City officials ordered spraying to begin around and in
city schools one day before classes resumed. Public School 29 in College Point was one of
the first to be sprayed, officials said. Crews drove trucks equipped with misting devices
around the school twice on the night before classes opened. The school sits at the
epicenter of the encephalitis scare, near the site of the first reported incidents of the
Spraying will continue until the disease stops showing up in patients
at local hospitals, officials said. Crews will continue to spray schools and school
grounds beginning at midnight, they said. The trucks have been spraying up to 12 schools
An official from the Mayors Office of Emergency Management added
that the Board of Education has agreed to wash down playground areas in the morning to
safeguard against children ingesting the insecticide.
The Board of Education has asked city health officials to be especially
cautious in notifying schools when spraying will occur. Principals and teachers are
concerned about health risks to children with asthma and other respiratory diseases,
EFFECTS ON KIDS
"How can they tell us that there is no health risk in exposure to
this insecticide when their own crew members are padded and covered up to the
nines when they go near the stuff?," asked one exasperated mother outside
PS 85 in Astoria.
"If they have to take such severe precautions, how can they say
its okay for us to breathe this stuff?"
Parents gathered at the Astoria school on opening day did not dispute
the citys decision to spray. They were simply concerned that in its race to destroy
the deadly mosquitoes, they could be putting city residents at risk.
School nurses treating symptoms that show up in students who have had
more than their share of anticipation over the spread of the disease.
"Children are coming in to our stations with complaints of nausea,
headaches and shortness of breath," said a nurse at a College Point school. Speaking
on terms of anonymity, the RN said the students are "more likely" suffering from
anxiety than the disease.
"But we cant take anything for granted," she said.
"Each complaint must be checked-out."
A group of children stood, gathered on a street corner adjacent to PS
85 in Astoria. They bantered back and forth, comparing their knowledge of the encephalitis
scare and how it has affected their day-to-day activities.
"Im only allowed to go outside with an adult," one
youngster said. "And only after I spray myself all over with Cutter."
A second, then a third youngster echoed tales similar of the first.
"Forget about riding my bike," one child chirped-in, "I
wish someone would find a way to get rid of those stupid mosquitoes."
In the midst of the Encephalitis scare, a second health warning has
arrived from the state Department of Health, Schomberg said.
Governor George Pataki has instructed schools to educate youngsters
about the escalating E-Coli virus crisis that reared its head recently at an upstate
Health warnings have been sent to school officials, urging them to
orchestrate discussions with students on proper hygiene a preventive measure in the
battle against E-Coli.
The number of people suspected to have been infected by the E-Coli
virus in upstate New York doubled in recent days, sending the number spiraling to more
than 300. The outbreak is the most serious ever in the United States, officials said.
The virus, which state health officials said could probably be traced
to contaminated water at the Washington County Fair, held late last month. Of those
infected, 49 have been hospitalized, including 10 children. Eight of those children are
listed in serious condition, on kidney dialysis.
The strain of E-Coli found in upstate New York could be very deadly to
children, health officials said. Pataki issued the urgent notice to schools regarding the
disease despite the fact that no cases have been reported in New York City.
The warning advises youngsters to wash their hands before they eat, and
after they use the bathroom. It also reminds children to throw used paper towels into a
waste receptacle not on the floor.
Such reminders should be commonplace, Schomberg said.
Still, it doesnt hurt to get the word out, she said.
|Parents Cheat Sheet To Encephalitis Safety
dont get bit:
Use insect repellants with no more than
30 percent DEET. Use 15 percent or less DEET for children. Do not use DEET on infants.
If you are outdoors during evening and night time hours when mosquitoes are most
active, wear protective clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks.
Empty water from outside objects such as bird baths and any containers in which
water accumulates and where mosquitoes may breed.
Make sure that door and window screen do not have holes.
Precautions during spraying:
The insecticide is one of the least harmful, but is effective
for killing adult mosquitoes.
People and pets should stay indoors. Close all doors and windows
and keep them closed for two to three hours after spraying is completed.
Some people are sensitive to any insecticide. Minor reactions
may include eye irritation, rash, and respiratory problems.
Turn fans and air conditioners off or set them to exhaust.
Remove childrens toy from outdoor areas and clothes from
outdoor clothes lines. (If toys are left outside, wash thoroughly with soap and water
before using again).
Symptoms of the disease:
Symptoms of St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE) include high fever associated
with severe headaches, stiff neck, and disorientation. If you have these symptoms, please
contact your physician immediately.
For more information on spraying, call the NYC Health Information Line at
1-888-MOEM-NYC (1-888-663-6692) or check the website at www.ci,nyc,ny.us/html/oem/html/spraying-sched.html.