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US Officials Discourage School Closures for Swine Flu

U.S. government officials are discouraging the closure of schools this upcoming school year because of swine influenza A-H1N1, but say such decisions will be left to local officials.

The Department of Health and Human Services, along with other U.S. government agencies, released new swine flu guidelines Friday for school systems.

Speaking in Washington, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said even though the government is hopeful there will be no need to close schools, realistically some will have to temporarily shut down this school year because of swine flu.

But the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said because officials know more about the swine flu virus now, closing schools will not be the best option in most cases.

He said instead schools should encourage staff and students to stay home if sick, and continue to emphasize hand washing.

Dr. Frieden said only if the virus starts to spread rapidly should officials turn to other ways to slow its spread, like keeping children separated.

Health officials have said children will be a priority when the first doses of a swine flu vaccine become available, but U.S. officials do not expect any vaccinations until mid-October.  

The World Health Organization has declared the swine flu outbreak a pandemic and said up to two billion people may eventually be infected.

The WHO said more than 160,000 cases of swine flu infections have been confirmed around the world, with more than 1,000 deaths.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters. 

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