Senate Pages May Have Contracted Swine Flu, Says Top Official
Updated 9:44 p.m.
By Shailagh Murray and Scott Butterworth
The H1N1 virus has arrived on Congress's doorstep.
Five Senate pages appear to have contracted the dreaded flu virus, which has been linked to more than 300 deaths, and they have been quarantined from their peers and lawmakers, Sergeant at Arms Terrance W. Gainer announced Tuesday night in an internal memo to senators and staff.
Gainer, who oversees the page program, said the teenagers "are exhibiting flu-like symptoms -- slightly elevated temperature, cough, and sore throats -- and the Office of Attending Physician believes that they most likely have influenza, quite possibly the H1N1 virus."
The pages do not have confirmed H1N1 cases, Gainer noted, because doctors have not tested them for the virus. "The test itself is uncomfortable and the results of the test will not alter the treatment plan," he said, noting that most outside doctors are following this course.
The pages have been quarantined, or as Gainer put it, "resting comfortably apart from their peers" in Daniel Webster Page Residence, near the Hart Senate Office Building. They will not be allowed to return to the Senate until the physician's office clears them, Gainer added. That clearance may not come before the end of their service: The Senate is scheduled to recess Aug. 7 for the remainder of the summer. (Gainer's full memo is after the jump.)
The H1N1 virus is striking particularly hard among teenagers and young adults, for reasons that scientists still do not understand. As a result, federal officials are discussing the possibility using public schools as the site of a mass vaccination campaign this fall.
The District has reported 45 confirmed and probable H1N1 cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, that federal agency reported Friday. (Nationally, the count is nearly 44,000.) But the CDC advises that those numbers likely undercount the true number of cases.
Thirty pages, typically high school juniors, serve the Senate each academic semester and during the summer. Their duties, according to the Senate's Web site, consist primarily of delivering correspondence and legislative material within the Capitol and the Senate office buildings. They also attend page school during the early morning, before the Senate convenes.
A MESSAGE FROM TERRANCE W. GAINER, SENATE SERGEANT AT ARMS
This message was sent to Senators, Chiefs of Staff, Administrative Managers, Schedulers and Executive Assistants:
"I am writing to let the Senate community know that the Senate Page Program is reporting that five of our summer pages are exhibiting flu-like symptoms--slightly elevated temperature, cough, and sore throats - and the Office of Attending Physician believes that they most likely have influenza, quite possibly the H1N1 virus. The Office of Attending Physician (and the vast majority of outside doctors) are not testing for the virus right now since the test itself is uncomfortable and the results of the test will not alter the treatment plan. The pages are resting comfortably apart from their peers and will not be allowed to return to work until cleared by the Physician's Office. While it is not unusual for several pages in a class of 50 to be ill at any given time, we are aware that the flu is of particular concern to our community right now.
"The Office of the Attending Physician is closely monitoring the situation and does not believe that further actions on the part of the Senate Community are necessary at this time. If that changes, we will let you know. This is a good time, however, to remind all of you that flu season, and the expected stronger return of the H1N1 virus, is coming, particularly as colleges and schools resume in the fall. We ask all of you to continue to take precautions, including frequent hand washing and sanitizing, staying home if you feel ill, and ensuring that you and your colleagues are prepared to work from home if a pandemic flu strikes this area. We encourage all of you to review the excellent material on the flu available on the Office of the Attending Physician's website on Webster at Senate.gov."
July 28, 2009; 8:48 PM ET
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