Parents Grill School, Experts On Hiv-infected Student

January 13, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

After 3 hours of listening to questions and medical testimony aboutAIDS Thursday night, Kathy Rice said she's no longer worried about sending her 4-year-old to Dublin Elementary School in September.

One of the school's 279 students has been diagnosed with HIV, the viruswhich causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The school called Wednesday's meeting to inform parents about what precautions school administrators and medical experts plan to take to protect students and teachers from exposure to the virus.

The school made the disclosure last week about the student. Administrators have withheld details about the child's identity and have not disclosed how the child contracted the disease.

While state law requires that AIDS cases be reported to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, it does not require HIV-infected people to identify themselves, school and health officials said.

"I'm satisfied. I feel that if my child were to come here, and there was still an HIV-infected child here, the school administrators would do an adequate job to protect my child," said Rice.

"Some people hear the word AIDS and can't get past the word. We teach our children to avoid strangersand about drugs. Now I have to go home and educate my children aboutthis."

But not all of 250 parents attending the informational meeting organized by school administrators and medical experts left feeling as confident.

Randy Boone, another Dublin resident, said he will keep his son, a kindergarten student, at home until he decides whether to request that his son be transferred.

"Right now I don't feel they have a safe environment for my child," said Boone. A safe environment would be not having that child (infected with the HIV virus) in this school."

"I have one child. We can only have one child.Even if the chance is one in a million he was to come in contact with this virus . . . this is a disease that kills."

Dr. Eric Fine, director of patient services for the state health department AIDS administration, explained to parents at the meeting how HIV is transmitted.

The virus, which attacks the body's immune system, is primarilyspread through unprotected sexual contact, intravenous drug use withan infected needle or blood-to-blood contact, Fine said.

He also explained that a person may have a positive HIV test, showing the presence of the virus, but may not show symptoms or develop the disease for many years.

"AIDS is not spreading among children," said Fine.

"You're not seeing a huge spread in the number of kids who have AIDS in school, because the kids aren't spreading it to each other. You're seeing more kids in school with AIDS or HIV because they're living longer -- living long enough to get an education."

Dr. Nancy Hutton, director of the pediatric AIDS clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, also responded to questions, as did Dr. Beverly Stump, deputy health officer for the Harford County health department,and John Mead, director of pupil services for the Board of Education.

Following are some questions asked by parents and summaries of the answers given by Mead, Fine and Hutton:

* How long does the AIDS virus live outside the body?

Hutton and Fine: HIV is not a hardy virus. It does not survive outside living cells. If the virus is contained in blood cells, the virus will be killed when the blood has dried because the virus can't survive without a living cell.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has said that bleach or disinfectants approved by the Environmental Protection Agency will kill the virus and should be used to clean up after blood spills.

* My child was asked to help another child with a nosebleed to go to the nurse's office. Can you guarantee school procedures will change?

Mead: Teachers at Dublin have had a refresher course on how to handle blood spills and on other precautions necessary to prevent HIV from being transmitted. Students will be instructed not to touch another person's blood. Information to prevent transmission of the HIV infection will be given in age-appropriate terms the children can understand.

Hutton: It is appropriate to teach your child that, even if directed byan adult, he or she should not touch another person's blood. Tell your child to politely say "I'm sorry. My mommy told me not to. Please call my mommy if you have a question."

* Will I be notified if mychild is exposed to the HIV virus?

Mead: "Yes."

* If my child has a cut and is exposed to the HIV virus through contact with an infected person's blood, what are the chances my child will get AIDS?

Hutton: "If enough blood with enough blood cells with enough of the virus in them, if that got deep enough into the other person's body, into the blood stream, then yes, that person could be at risk, but such exposure is unlikely in a school setting."

Fine: "The conditions have to be so right to achieve transmission there should not be aconcern about casual contact in a school setting."

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