Commentary: Swine flu awareness

Get ready for the upcoming flu season. It promises to be a bad one.

Even during the normally flu-free summer months, the H1N1 virus has continued to cause illness and death across America — more than 43,000 confirmed and probable cases from mid-April to the end of July and more than 300 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 6,500 individuals have been hospitalized.

With good reason, the World Health Organization calls swine flu an unstoppable pandemic. With the opening of schools next week, illness and contagion are sure to worsen.

The need to prepare applies to everyone, but in the case of H1N1, parents of school children need to be especially alert. The 5-to-24 age group has suffered the highest infections of the virus, the CDC says.

The good news, if any, is that the federal government and school districts in Miami-Dade and Broward have made sensible plans to cope with the swine flu's near-certain resurgence. But the plans won't work unless the public does its part. That means taking preventive measures, becoming familiar with the symptoms and staying alert for public health updates.

In the spring, fears of swine flu led to the closing of more than 700 schools across the country. That is not necessary in most instances. As the CDC noted, officials need to balance the risk of flu with the disruption that school dismissals cause in education and the wider community.

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