Influenza outbreak starts to hit home

In many areas of the U.S., influenza-like illness is quite high and it’s expected to continue throughout the next few weeks. Although local schools have been affected, it’s only been in smaller numbers and administrators have been combating this issue fairly effectively.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to combat influenza is to get an annual flu vaccine. Even now, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Getting a flu vaccination has benefits and can help you stay healthy and active. It also reduces flu illnesses, doctor’s visits, and prevents flu-related hospitalizations.

Schools have been encouraging students and parents to follow various methods to remain illness-free. Proper hygiene, such as hand washing and sanitizing is encouraged. Similar preventive measures are being used at each school. “The custodial staff gets a lot of credit because they are wiping down light switches, and doorknobs all the time. Tables and desks are wiped once a day,” Dan Pottebaum, Boyden-Hull Junior High/High School principal, said. That’s standard procedure. There is also hand sanitizer located in each room.

Students who become ill during the school day are sent to the office. Students are then picked up by their parents or they drive themselves home.

Most schools recommend that students stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone to be sure they’re no longer contagious.

The principal at Trinity Christian High School, Jim Regnerus, commented, “Our school is going through boxes of tissues at a torrid pace these days. Many of the students and staff who are well enough to come to school are still combating runny noses and head colds.” The CDC suggests always covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throwing it away after each use.

Staying healthy is important and getting plenty of rest, eating well, and drinking lots of fluids, especially water, helps. Pottebaum said they added another water bottle filler this school year and have seen an increase in kids filling up with water. “We’ve been pretty blessed here and really haven’t experienced a lot of illness this week,” he said.

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a very contagious respiratory illness. It infects the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms include fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue. Some people may also have diarrhea and vomiting.

The flu is spread through droplets from people’s coughs or sneezes that passes to those nearby. Touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touchingyour mouth, eyes or nose passes it to you. Keeping your hands away from your face and disinfecting surfaces that may be contaminated helps avoid the illness.

Contracting the flu often happens before your own symptoms develop and you may not even feel sick yet. Once exposed to the flu virus, symptoms can begin about one to four days afterwards. Flu complications could be sinus infections, ear infections, pneumonia, dehydration or worse. Staying away from sick people, washing your hands frequently using soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub helps keep germs from spreading.

When you become ill, staying home and avoiding contact with other people usually reduces the length of an illness. Prescription antiviral drugs that can prevent serious complications such as pneumonia are also available.

Low absentee rates at most area schools prove the methods being used are effective. The absentee rates have not been acutely high compared to other U.S. schools. Western Christian has 272 students and they have consistently had about 20 kids absent each day this past week, which is slightly over 7 percent of the student body.

Boyden-Hull Junior High/High School has 307 students and the highest day of absenteeism was 15 students missing on Thursday but it dropped to only 10 missing Friday. This is just over 4 percent, which is quite manageable. Boyden-Hull Elementary has 340 students. Tom Kerr, elementary principal, explained there was no spike in illness at the school.

The student body at Hull Christian includes preschool and totals 189 students. They averaged six to eight students missing each day for the last few weeks, which is slightly over 4 percent of the students. “This is more than average, but often the numbers go a little higher in the winter,” explained Hull Christian`s Principal, Randy Ten Pas. He knew of a few cases of influenza A or B, strep throat, fever and stomach flu.

On their highest day, Trinity Christian had the highest percentage of students missing of all the schools — slightly over 9 percent of the student body of 76 was missing. This past Monday was the highest with seven missing and Friday it dropped to six students.

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