By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
The flu season is still months away, but with the swine flu (or H1N1 virus) outbreak still very much on people’s minds – and its effects recently felt at some major Division I football programs – high school athletic directors and coaches across the San Gabriel Valley are stepping up precautionary measures to prevent the same from happening here.
Two weeks ago, the eighth- ranked Mississippi Rebels had at least 17 players suffering from flu-like symptoms, and several of them played sick in a 45-14 win over Memphis. Fifteen players missed practice the following Tuesday, and the number of sick increased to 27 by day’s end.
Several players at Wisconsin also came down with the fever, coughing, body aches and sore throats, all symptoms of the H1N1 virus.
Stillman College, a Division II school in Alabama, canceled its home football opener against Clark Atlanta because of the swine flu after players complained of flu-like symptoms during practice two weeks ago.
At Georgia, redshirt freshman Makiri Pugh tested positive for the swine flu and was kept home. He didn’t play against Oklahoma State.
As a precautionary measure, Mississippi is administering flu vaccines to all athletes in October instead of the usual time in November. They’ll also administer the swine flu vaccine when it becomes available next month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on their Web site that they’re preparing for an early flu season and expect the 2009 H1N1 flu and seasonal flu to cause illness, hospital stays and deaths.
Much like the seasonal flu, the swine flu spreads from an infected person sneezing or coughing near other people, as well as by inhaling the virus or touching an infected person or object and then placing your hands on your nose or mouth.
Several athletic directors and coaches across the San Gabriel Valley were unaware of the recent outbreak, but added they’ll take extra steps to help prevent the spread of the disease, much like Pasadena City College is doing by posting contamination information on the locker room doors and walls.
“It sounds like we need to, too,” Monrovia athletic director Randy Bell said. “Any time we have a kid that is sick or showing symptoms of a cold, we want to make sure they’re not near the (other) kids.”
With all high school football teams, shoulder pads, helmets and locker rooms are sanitized before equipment is issued at the start of fall camp.
Rosemead High School football coach Matt Koffler said players now are strongly encouraged to shower after each practice, and though they use water bottles during practices and games, Koffler said he’s strongly encouraging his players to use water cups, which are also provided.
“We make sure our manager brings water cups and that they get thrown away after each use,” Koffler said.
“It’s hard to monitor 100 kids out there so they don’t use water bottles, but we’re educating them and making them aware, sort of like the steroid issue; you can only tell them and educate them and hope they follow the rules.”
Outbreaks at Rosemead aren’t something new.
“We had a couple outbreaks a couple years ago with skin infection – hives,” Koffler said. “So we’ve encountered some of these problems, and as we’re learning, we inform the kids on how to stay healthy and safe.”
Pasadena athletic director Tony Brooks said they’re isolating athletes who come down with flu-like symptoms and strongly encouraging them to stay home.
School officials around the country say they’re following guidelines from the CDC and isolating sick students for 24 to 48 hours even after their symptoms clear up.
Brooks continually is advising his athletes to wash their hands, not drink from the same water bottle, and wash their practice jerseys.
“A lot of times players have a tendency to wear their jerseys all the time without washing them,” he said. “We’re emphasizing hygiene and telling kids to pour water into their mouths instead of drinking with their lips.”
La Salle athletic director John Matheus said they have a trainer on site at all times and are making sure athletes follow proper procedures.
Instead of water bottles, the Lancers football team has a water dispenser that’s used at practices and games, from which players drink out of various nozzles without having to put their mouths on the dispenser.
“That works very well,” Matheus said.
There are no reports of flu- like symptoms affecting area teams, but coaches and athletic directors are echoing the same strategy to prevent a potential dilemma.
“We’ll certainly keep on top of it,” Matheus said. “I’ve talked to all the coaches about this, and as hard as they work, we certainly don’t want this to put the players in jeopardy because of negligence.”
Brooks said educating athletes is first and foremost.
“I believe we as athletic directors have to continually emphasize the importance of taking preventive measures so it does not take its toll on our teams and affect the health of our student-athletes.”
The Associated Press contributed to
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