Early flu season hitting some midstate schools

Telegraph staffDecember 5, 2012 

The flu bug is biting some midstate students a little earlier than usual this school year.

“Normally you wouldn’t see the flu symptoms until late December and January,” said Sheila Yancey, a nurse at Northwest Laurens Elementary School. “Usually after we have Christmas break, we (see) the flu.”

Before students had Thanksgiving break, she saw about 30 students with flu symptoms a week and four or five confirmed cases. Those numbers, at least at her school, have since tapered off.

A nationwide increase in flu activity over the last two weeks also indicates an early 2012-13 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

During the week of Nov. 24, Georgia and Missouri reported moderate flu activity, according to CDC data. Only Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas reported higher activity.

While Georgia’s flu activity overall is considered moderate so far, the state Department of Public Health said there has been more flu activity in parts of the state, particularly among some Georgia school systems.

The week of Nov. 24, health care providers saw more patients seeking relief from flu symptoms in every age category except for 5 to 24-year-olds than they did the previous week, CDC data showed.

Almost six out of 10 people who sought medical care for flu symptoms during the week of Nov. 24 were 24 or younger, according to the CDC.

Deania Johnston, who works both as a nurse and health care science teacher at West Laurens High School, also said several students there were out sick with the flu in recent weeks.

In one of her classes, seven out of 24 students were home sick at one point. With so many students absent, she had to balance catching students up without slowing other students down.

“When you have students out, one or two is not a big deal, but when you have more than that, it makes an impact,” she said.

Coming down with the flu impacts more than just the student who gets sick, Yan­cey said. It also affects families that have to stay home to take care of children, as well as classmates.

“When you have more kids that have it and come to school anyway, you’re spreading it and you increase the likelihood of spreading it to other children,” she said.

Yancey has emphasized a multipronged approach to keeping illness at bay at Northwest Laurens, promoting good hand-washing techniques and keeping teachers informed about flu symptoms.

Vickie Oliver, a nurse at Hunt Elementary and Fort Valley Middle schools in Peach County, spent Thanksgiving break in bed with flu-like symptoms herself. Oliver assumes she got sick after caring for students with similar symptoms.

“There have been a little bit more kids with those symptoms,” she said. “I know kids have been absent, and a lot of them have gone home early.”

At Byron Elementary and Byron Middle schools, nurse Jessica Brantley says the number of children with flu symptoms is much higher compared to previous years.

“We’ve had several calls from parents just letting us know that they’ve taken their child to the doctor, and yes, they do have the flu,” she said.

In Houston County schools, there was an increase in the number of students sent home with stomach viruses and flu-like symptoms before Thanksgiving break, but it is unclear whether all of those illnesses are related to the flu, said Beth McLaughlin, the district spokeswoman.

Bibb County’s Stacy Carr, the district’s Schoolhouse Health Program coordinator, said she hasn’t seen an increase in flu cases among students. In the past, however, more students have gotten sick earlier in the year, usually in September and October.

Overall, fewer Bibb County students have gotten the flu in recent years because of efforts to offer vaccinations in schools. Georgia Department of Public Health officials recommend vaccinations for the general public, saying they can provide protection against early strains of the H3N2 flu virus this year.

“It’s not near as much in the last few years as in the past,” Carr said.

Monroe County officials also credited in-school flu vaccines to keeping illness from spiking. While some nurses were out sick before the Thanksgiving holiday, the number of students out because of the flu is about the same for this time of year, said Leigh Grant, lead nurse for Monroe County schools.

The system’s calendar also includes regular vacations that keep sick students home, she said.

“By having these more frequent breaks, it really helps healthwise, because we don’t stay together long enough for everyone to get sick,” Grant said.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331. To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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