Following a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report that over 1,000 of 1,154 people who have died worldwide from the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic were in the Americas, schools in the US brace themselves for a “nasty” flu season.

338 (nearly one third) of the deaths were reported in the last week of July, of which more than 300 were in the Americas.

A total of 168 countries and territories have now reported at least one lab confirmed case of pandemic swine flu, bringing the total reported number of cases worldwide to at least 162,380, said the WHO.

However, the global health agency explained that this number is likely to be a gross understatement of the actual number of cases, since countries are no longer required to test and report individual cases.

Since 6 July, nine countries have newly reported their first case of pandemic H1N1 flu: Azerbaijan, Gabon, Grenada, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Monaco, Nauru, Swaziland, Suriname.

In terms of how active the virus is, most countries in North and South America are reporting widespread activity (last update for this was in mid July), while in Europe only the UK and Portugal are seeing widespread activity. The rest of Europe and countries reporting from Asia are experiencing localized activity said the WHO.

They also said there is no evidence that the pandemic swine flu virus is mutating to a more dangerous form, all “viruses analyzed to date are antigenically and genetically similar”.

However, six patients have been found to have strains of the virus that is resistant to oseltamivir (Tamiflu). These cases were in Denmark (1 patient), Hong Kong (1), Japan (3) and Canada (1). Five of the six patients had been given Tamiflu, and they have all recovered well.

The resistant strains all had the same characteristic mutation at position 274/275, associated with oseltamivir resistance, said the WHO.

Meanwhile, US schools are bracing for what could be a “nasty flu season”, reports ABC News.

The US government is expected to release guidelines for principals and educators this Friday to help them prevent the spread of H1N1 swine flu.

There is a delicate balance to be struck between stemming the spread of the virus and the disruption that would be caused by closing schools, which is one of the actions that may be considered.

The knock-on effect could be considerable, not only disrupting schools but other workplaces too as parents juggle their work arrangements to look after children at home.

Other challenges for educators is how to make sure students don’t fall behind in their studies.

In Georgia, where students have already gone back to school, Cindy Ball, director of community relations for Rockdale County Public Schools, told ABC News, that they were concerned about:

“How do you continue learning for students who are healthy?”

Source: WHO, ABC News.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD