One-Third of Concord Students Ditch School

More than one-third of the students at El Monte Elementary School in Concord were absent Monday after a classmate with the H1N1 virus died May  29 and two other children reported flu-like symptoms last week, Mount Diablo  Unified School District Superintendent Dick Nicoll said.

According to Nicoll, 163 of the school's 468 students were absent today. One teacher also called in sick.

Nicoll did not know how many children were actually sick and how many were being kept home as a precaution.

Although health officials have said there is no reason to close the school, Nicoll said he made sure parents received an automated message  Saturday informing them that two more children were sick with flu-like  symptoms.

"We wanted to make sure parents were fully informed so they could  make their own choice," Nicoll said.

Contra Costa County health officials announced Thursday that a child who had been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus died May 29. The Contra Costa County coroner's office identified the child as 9-year-old Karen Perez. She was in the fourth grade at El Monte Elementary School.

Laboratory tests confirmed Wednesday that Karen had swine flu as well as a secondary bacterial infection, Contra Costa Public Health Director  Dr. Wendel Brunner said.

The county health department is working with state and federal health officials to determine what role swine flu played in her death, Brunner said.

Karen was the first person infected with swine flu to die in the Bay Area.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Brunner said he did not believe that any other children at the school had been exposed to the virus  and that there were no plans to close the school, which only has three more  days to go before summer vacation begins.

Last Monday, however, about an hour after the health department told him there was nothing to worry about, Patrick McCormick's 10-year-old  daughter Michaela was sent home with flu-like symptoms, McCormick said.

Michaela and Karen were in the same fourth-grade class, McCormick said.

Since then, McCormick's son Gavin, 8, has also come down with flu-like symptoms, along with a third child, a girl who was also in Karen's  class, McCormick said.

McCormick is keeping both of his children home, although Michaela no longer has any symptoms and is anxious to go back to school and Gavin,  whose fever is gone today, would like to be outside skateboarding with his  friends, McCormick said.

McCormick said he would have liked to know earlier that his children might have been exposed to swine flu so that he could have taken  steps to prevent them from potentially exposing other children to the  illness.

He has been told that he still has to wait several days to find out whether Gavin has swine flu.

Contra Costa Health Services spokeswoman Kate Fowlie said the health department can't comment on individual cases or cases at specific  schools.

Health officials are encouraging people who are sick to stay home from school or work.

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