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Flu present but not yet making large dents in local school attendance

Glasgow Daily Times - 1/8/2020

Jan. 8--GLASGOW -- School officials said Tuesday that so far, the semester was starting off on a good foot with respect to a lack of significant numbers of flu absences.

According to a Kentucky Health News report citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, Barren County and adjoining Monroe and Warren counties had big jumps during the week ending Dec. 21; Barren had 69 new cases for a total of 139, and Monroe had 29 more for a total of 58. Warren, which is much more populous, had 37 new cases for a total of 84.

That was the final week for all three public school systems within Barren County before the holiday break; they all started back to school Monday.

Ashli McCarty, marketing and communications coordinator for the Barren River District Health Department, said that as of the week ending Dec. 28, the 10-county Barren River Area had had a total of 766 confirmed cases, one of which was fatal, of illness from an influenza virus in 2019, compared with 134 the same time the previous year.

"So it actually is a pretty big jump for our area," she said. "Get your flu shot."

Flu in schools

Nathan Wyatt, director of pupil personnel for Caverna Independent Schools, said their attendance normally runs just shy of 94 percent, but the week prior to Christmas break, it was 91 percent, and so far this week, it's been roughly 92 percent.

"Our attendance was suffering right before the break, and we've had some confirmed cases over the break, keeping them from being in school right here as the semester starts," he said. "It's a little below what we want, but hopefully it'll pick up.

Chad Muhlenkamp, director of pupil personnel for Glasgow Independent Schools, said the week before break, they were running pretty close to normal attendance districtwide, but there was one school that had a little dip with some illness.

"We've not seen anything significant. We're just holding our own right now, but things can change quickly," he said.

When they get reports of cases, they have the custodial staff be even more diligent with their efforts.

Anthony Frazier, DPP for Barren County Schools, said that before the break, they'd seen some pockets of cases at one school or another while the rest would be OK, but overall, the district was running at 93 percent.

The first two days back from break had averaged 95 percent attendance, "which is good for this time of year. ... Right now, we're starting out great."

The break gives them an opportunity to do some deep cleaning, plus just having most everyone out of the building and away from each other helps, too, Frazier said.

All three said that for school to be cancelled due to flu, those attendance numbers percentage-wise would need to be in the 80s and trending downward.

"We typically don't do that," Wyatt said of flu-related closures, adding that when the school system has done it, it didn't seem like it really got better once they returned.

"Right now, we just try to make sure our custodians are working hard to keep the rooms clean and disinfected," he said. "Hopefully it's a short flu season."

Muhlenkamp said GIS starts watching the numbers a little more and "start having those conversations" when the attendance percentages hit the low 90s and upper 80s. The leadership will look to see whether there's an outlier with a particular school, for example.

"We start looking at the data a little bit harder on what we need to do," he said.

Frazier said when BCS falls below 90 percent districtwide, they begin looking at the numbers and monitoring the trend, and if it stays in the 80s for three to four days and isn't improving, they consider closure.

Frazier said they recommend that students wash their hands throughout the day, but then again as soon as they get home, and they should change their clothes when they get home to avoid spreading any germs they've carried with them there.

"We recommend they go to the doctor and get a test done," rather than sending them to school and risk spreading the viral infection to others, he said.

When a student is believed or confirmed to have the flu, they should not go to school and risk spreading the viral infection to others.

it is helpful to the school for parents to go ahead and communicate that by phone, even before the student returns, because they can increase cleaning and disinfection efforts for particular areas, and even on particular buses, Frazier said, and it's helpful for doctor's notes to specify if it was the flu, because that's logged into the attendance system with a code that can be used to help track those trends.

Flu prevention and detection

The best way to prevent flu is for anyone six months or older to get a flu vaccine each year, McCarty emphasized, and it's not to late to get one for the current season.

Other basic prevention efforts include regular hand washing; covering one's mouth during coughs or sneezes, preferably into the inside of your elbow rather than into your hand; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; avoid people who are sick; and if you have the flu yourself, she said, stay home.

The main ways a person can tell whether they may have the flu rather than a cold is that flu symptoms come on really abruptly; a fever may last three to four days, though not everyone who has the flu gets a fever; severe body aches and pains typically accompany the flu, as well as chills and fatigue and weakness, McCarty said. Headaches are also more common with the flu than with colds.

People also can have vomiting and diarrhea. Although the digestive issues are more common in children, they can also occur with adults, she said.

"If you have these symptoms, it's important to go to the doctor," McCarty said.

A simple swab test can confirm the illness.

High-risk populations who may have weaker immune systems such as children younger than 5 -- especially younger than 2, individuals 65 and older, pregnant women and people with chronic illness need to be especially careful and address the onset of symptoms seriously and rapidly.

"The flu shot also reduces your risk of passing the flu to one of those individuals," McCarty said, "so the flu shot's not just for you, it's for those people, too."

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