Swine flu arrived in Macon County, Alabama, last week, showing up in classrooms at all levels and leaving a spate of empty desks in its wake. But authorities are battling the virus on its own turf, using vacant seats as both a map and compass to stem the tide.
When the virus entered the United States last April, the Centers for Disease Control issued test kits to physicians around the country to record confirmed cases. But by late July, doctors stopped individual reporting, saying the flu strain had become so extensive that maintaining such detailed surveillance was time-consuming and likely underestimating the true number of flu cases in the U.S. The Alabama Department of Public Health came up with a new plan: tracking the virus through school absentee records, voluntarily shared by individual districts.