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Parents quiz health experts about H1N1 risks

It was a meeting of the minds as State Senator Marty Golden, Brooklyn parents and health experts discussed ways to prevent the spread of swine flu in Brooklyn last week.

At the health preparedness hearing at the Cort Club in Gerritsen Beach, Golden offered his thoughts on the swine flu epidemic sweeping the nation.

Schools, in particular, face a difficult task of preventing the spread of swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, he noted.

“In a serious and unfortunate way, schools are warehouses for illness in our society — and they are not equipped to deal with widespread disease,” Golden said. “That’s not a criticism. The purpose of the schools is to educate, not to provide the intense health services available in hospitals, nursing homes and clinics.”

Golden noted that it’s not just schools that are dealing with swine flu.

“There are other areas in our community which face similar situations, for example, senior centers.These groups — children and the elderly — are the most vulnerable in our society,” he said.

In hope of preventing the spread of swine flu in public schools, the city Department of Education (DOE) announced plans to provide free flu mist and flu shots tailored to the H1N1 virus. The shots will be provided to elementary school students with parental permission this fall.

Last year, several Brooklyn schools were closed due to swine flu outbreaks. In these instances, the schools were cleaned before children returned to class.

A new problem is presented in buildings that house several schools, said Laurie Windsor, president of the Community Education Council (CEC) in School District 20, which spans Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Borough Park and part of Bensonhurst.

“They share the gym, auditorium, cafeteria, stairwells, and in some cases, the nurse. If you’re closing one school on a campus, all the schools should be closed,” Windsor said.

During the current school year, the city Health Department will post regular updates on its Web site, www.nyc.gov/health, offering details about local schools’ attendance rates and the number of children absent with “influenza-like illness.”

The site also has links to local flu vaccination clinics, which include Duane Reade and Walgreens stores.

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