Swine flu forces cancellations at Jewish summer camps

JTA reports that as of June 23, nine confirmed cases have been reported at Jewish camps in Texas.

jewish camp 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy Foundation for Jewish Camp / jta)
jewish camp 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy Foundation for Jewish Camp / jta)
Every summer in the US, Jewish youth flock to summer camps across the country. This year, however, the outbreak of the new H1N1 virus, swine flu, has threatened the safety of campers. The JTA reported that as of June 23, nine confirmed cases have been reported at Jewish camps in Texas. Seven of those cases were at Camp Young Judaea Texas, where camp director Frank Silberlicht was forced to delay camp for 4th and 5th graders until June 26. Ben Degani, a counselor at the camp, said over 40 campers were sent to the infirmary with fevers. "The whole camp was on antiviral medication for 10 days, but everyone is healthy now. Some of the kids who went home didn't come back, but most did," he said. Silberlicht, however, is optimistic the campers will continue to have fun, despite the medical strains. "Camp was so busy with all our activities that a visitor would not notice the flu," he said. According to the JTA, officials at Camp Coleman in Cleveland, Georgia, were forced to cancel the camp's first summer session, affecting over 400 children who were supposed to attend. The decision was made after 45 of the 160 staff members reported flu and flu-like symptoms. Camp Newman-Swig, a Union for Reform Judaism camp in Santa Rosa, California, delayed the start of camp until June 25 because 25 staff members reported flu-like symptoms and were quarantined for 7 days. A statement posted on Newman-Swig's Web site assured the public that "even if more staff and campers get sick, we are prepared to care for them and others. This situation is not unique to our camp." According to the US Center for Disease Control, the swine flu virus affects mostly young people. Until recently, schools were considered to be the breeding ground for the virus. Now, as the virus continues to spread, camps are evidently also a potential breeding ground. But it is not only camps that have been threatened. Five cases of the flu were reported at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Maryland, one of the largest Orthodox yeshivas in the country. The cases, however, were mild and none of the students was hospitalized, according to the Baltimore Jewish Times. As reported in The Jerusalem Post on June 16, 18 soldiers were infected with swine flu after coming in contact with 15 teens in the birthright israel program. In total, the Ministry of Health has announced 506 confirmed cases of the flu in Israel. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the H1N1 virus a Phase 6 worldwide pandemic. A Phase 6 designation indicates a global pandemic is underway. The WHO noted, however, that the existence of a pandemic is determined based on the number of people infected, not the severity of the illness. "By working quickly and aggressively, and in line with Health Department protocols, we have been able to control the spread of the virus-and keep camp operating," said Silberlicht. But not all camps have recovered yet, and some are only getting worse. Lori Abramowitz, a counselor at Shwayder Camp in Idaho Springs, Colorado, is currently bedridden. She told the Post "about one-third of our staff is out right now with a fever. Somewhere around 50 summer camps across the country are closed because of the flu. We had to send home about 15 percent of our campers first session."