Always vigilant

Darrell Cole
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Local camps on the watch for H1N1 virus

AMHERST - An outbreak of the H1N1 virus at three Ontario children's camps has given officials at other summer camps even more reason to be vigilant.

"We have an infectious disease outbreak protocol and we rigorously practice universal precautions," said Heather MacDonald of the Abilities Foundation of Nova Scotia that runs Camp Tidnish, a camp for physically and mentally challenged children and adults near the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border. "

MacDonald said camp staff are very vigilant when it comes to the health of both the campers and themselves and take a number of precautions, the biggest of which is frequent hand washing and ensuring campers don't share things like toothbrushes, utensils and drinking glasses.

Health officials in Ontario confirmed Wednesday the presence of the virus at three camps north of Toronto with 227 children displaying mild symptoms

As the provincial representative on the Canadian Camping Association, MacDonald has been sent a lot of information regarding H1N1 protocols including one from Ontario advising what to look for and what precautions to take.

"Hand-washing is the priority and no overcrowding of bunks is big while things like strict disinfection after meals, disinfecting door handles have been put into place," she said.

MacDonald said any camper exhibiting signs of the virus would be placed into quarantine and checked out by the camp nurse. If symptoms persist, the family would be called to pick up the camper.

"We're probably more vigilant because we're an Easter Seals camp and many of our campers already come with various illnesses," she said.

Jason Burke, camp director at Camp Pagweak near Pugwash, said his staff is very vigilant when it comes to the health of campers.

"You can't wash your hands enough," he said. "Whenever it's mealtime we make sure all the kids have washed their hands with hand sanitizer. That's the biggest thing you can do to prevent it."

Camp Pagweak, operated by the Baptist church, usually has about 40 children per week from across the province at its camp and Burke said he's not aware of any illness in past years. He said there's a strict protocol they follow when it comes to disinfecting tables, doorknobs and other surfaces while they also purchased a new dishwasher this year.

"We used to wash our dishes by hand, but we figured we'd be extra safe this year and we got a new dishwasher," said Burke, adding that if a child became ill he or she'd be separated from the rest of the campers and sent home if they got sicker.

As much as staff are vigilant, MacDonald feels parents have a role to play as well by not sending their children to camp if they're not well.

"If their children have a cold or are coming down with something the last place they should send them is to a camp environment because it will spread like wildfire," she said.

Last August, Camp Tidnish was the scene of a listeriosis scare when eight counsellors fell ill after eating packaged meat associated with a Maple Leaf Foods processing facility in Ontario. None of the sick counsellors were confimed to have listeriosis, but it resulted in the cancelling of the final camp of the season.

MacDonald said officials from the Abilities Foundation evaluated their response to the scare last summer and found that its protocol was followed, but she added it's always looking to make improvements when it comes to the health and safety of campers and staff.

Camp recommendations for dealing with H1N1

- Be on the lookout for campers and staff with a fever, cough or sore throat, headache, tiredness, aches, diarrhea and vomiting.

- Screen campers upon arrival.

- Recognize and isolate any camper/staff with respiratory illness.

- Make handwashing a priority.

- Encourage everyone to cough or sneeze into their sleeve.

- Do not overcrowd bunks

- Careful housekeeping especially in high touch areas like washrooms and door handles.

- Wash down dining room tables with disinfectant after use.

Organizations: Abilities Foundation of Nova Scotia, Canadian Camping Association, Baptist church Maple Leaf Foods

Geographic location: Ontario, AMHERST, Nova Scotia-New Brunswick Toronto Pugwash

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