Schools concerned with swine flu

Published 10:03 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2009

School officials typically don’t want students to stay home. But, there’s not much typical about the start of this year.

With influenza viruses taking a hit much earlier than flu season, school officials have cause for concerns.

Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith said absences have been significantly higher than normal.

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“The absentee rate is higher than normal, and there have been more absent at the middle school than the other two schools,” Felton-Smith said.

While she wouldn’t give a specific number, she said school officials are working closely with the local health department to monitor absences and determine whether to keep school doors open.

There is no amount of students that have to be absent for the schools to close.

“In the technical report the Center for Disease Control has on closing, something we take into consideration is absentee numbers. That’s what we were doing today, talking about our numbers.”

And Felton-Smith said monitor is just what the school system will continue to do.

“We discuss percentages we have out and talk about the pros and cons of coming to school. We will monitor, monitor and monitor,” Felton-Smith said.

Troy City Schools isn’t the only one that’s been hit by early flu outbreaks.

Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell said absences haven’t been too much higher than normal, but he has had reports of flu virus.

“Most schools have had kids return after absences and reported having the flu,” Bazzell said.

But, just because the virus hasn’t made a big presence in the school system, Bazzell said he’s expecting it soon will.

“We’re anticipating it will become an issue. It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Bazzell said.

Early flu viruses have both superintendents concerned for what lies ahead.

“It is a concern it’s happening earlier, and because of the number, that even makes me more concerned,” Felton-Smith said.

What exactly lies ahead for the flu season is something one local doctor said is impossible to predict.

“There’s no way of knowing when or how bad it’s going to occur or if everything we’re going to see is the swine flu,” said Dr. Patricia Block, with the Charles Henderson Child Healthcare Center.

Block said since three weeks before the start of school, she has seen a significant number of patients with flu, many with the swine flu virus.

“We knew and what we’ve seen since school opened is it’s been spreading rapidly,” Block said.

She said none of her patients have been seriously ill or hospitalized with the flu, but it has been spreading in such high numbers that many local pharmacies are low on Tamiflu.

Other local schools have been more fortunate so far.

“We have been very blessed to have a small percentage of our students out with flu,” said Dee Bennett, vice principal of Pike Liberal Arts School.

Bennett said only three students have been out with flu, and New Life Christian Academy and Collegedale Christian School all have not had any flu cases yet.

Block said the key in preventing the virus from spreading is to wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes and most importantly to stay home with fever.

Block said people with fever should not return to school or work until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without some type of medication.