from staff and wire reports

Lauderdale County schools may not have any confirmed cases of swine flu right now — but they do have possible cases of flu, and the state department of education is currently assuming that all cases of flu are swine flu.

Randy Hodges, superintendent of the Lauderdale County School District, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is no longer testing cases of flu for the H1N1 swine flu strain. "It's all just being considered the flu," he said. "Do we have some students that may have the flu, yes. But as we know today it's not confirmed cases of the swine flu."

The office of the state superintendent of schools issued a letter Thursday to district superintendents around the state telling them that, "The health department does not test every person with a flu-like illness for H1N1. A quick test can be administered to diagnose the flu without the subtypes. However, due to the prevalence and the derivation from normal seasonal flu patterns, a diagnosis of the flu is assumed to be the H1N1 strain."

While it is important to try and slow the spread of the swine flu, local doctors have said, it is a relatively mild form of influenza. All strains of influenza can lead to complications, but doctors said in May that swine flu has not shown itself to be more likely to cause complications than regular seasonal flu.

Hodges said the school system has been keeping a close eye on the flu situation, monitoring the number of students that are absent or sent home with a fever, and comparing those numbers to last year.

He said more students have been sent home this year than last year at this time.

"We have a plan in place that started last spring," Hodges said. "We work with principals, school nurses, and the state department of education. We're taking it day by day. We're looking at the facts."

Hodges said that, though some students may have the flu, there are no plans to close any county schools at this point.

Though schools are not expected to close, the district is trying to prevent the spread of the flu by sending home students who exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Estelle Watts, statewide school nurse consultant for the Department of Education, said parents are being told to keep children at home if they are sick.

On Wednesday, the Vicksburg-Warren School District Web site reported 25 suspected cases. On Tuesday, Hazlehurst reported one case. In Lee County, there were about a half-dozen suspected cases as of Wednesday.

In Poplarville, school officials have reported a few cases of flu but referred to it as a mild Type A strain.

‘‘Unless a school has so many absentees with either faculty or staff that the school can’t function, there is no reason to close down a school,’’ said Dr. Paul Byers, medical director for the epidemiology program at the Mississippi Department of Health.

The novel swine flu falls under the broad Type A category, said Dr. Skip Nolan, interim director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

‘‘But it’s a new strain. So people don’t have immunity to it, and more people are getting it.’’

Symptoms are no more severe than those of other flu strains, health officials say. They include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

At Mississippi State University, 84 probable cases were reported Wednesday, said Robert Cadenhead, administrator of MSU’s Longest Student Health Center.

Dr. Robert Collins, director of the center, said there have been more suspected cases since then.

‘‘We knew an outbreak was coming, but it’s definitely a little earlier than I expected.’’

MSU’s health center has purchased 5,000 thermometers to distribute to students so they can monitor a fever.

‘‘I don’t know how many we have left,’’ Collins said.

The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg had two probable cases of the flu, said Joseph Paul, vice president of student affairs.

The University of Mississippi in Oxford has had a ‘‘few scattered cases,’’ said Barbara Lago, Ole Miss spokeswoman.

As a precaution, Ole Miss officials canceled Saturday’s ‘‘Meet the Rebels’’ event, in which fans mingle with the football team.

Across the state, 413 cases of the swine flu have been confirmed by the Department of Health since May 15.

Byers said swine flu vaccine should be available by mid-October.

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