As flu hits area, local schools urge parents to keep ill students home


by Kate Evans

Seasonal influenza activity and flu-like illness is now widespread in our area, with growing numbers of flu cases confirmed at War Memorial Hospital and illnesses prevalent in local schools.

War Memorial Hospital’s emergency room has seen an increase of patient cases with flu and flu-like illness symptoms, said Chris Parsons, Emergency Department Director. Medical staff confirmed 11 positive cases of the flu this past week. They’ve also been seeing strep throat and gastrointestinal bugs. Parsons said they usually see an increase in flu cases this time.

War Memorial Hospital has no visiting restrictions at this time. Wash your hands often and wear a face mask if you’re visiting someone in the hospital and have symptoms.

Parsons said visitors are being limited in the emergency room somewhat because of patients in the back that possibly have the flu. She encouraged frequent hand-washing and good hand hygiene and getting your flu shot if you haven’t gotten it yet.

Doctors, schools

Nurse Lindy Morris from River Bend Family Medicine in Hancock said their medical office had four positive cases of confirmed flu this past week. Medical staff was seeing a lot of upper respiratory illness and other viral illnesses.

Morgan County Schools lead nurse Gina Mellott said schools had seen a significant increase in absence rates over the past week, with more than 10% of the school populations being out across the county. Pleasant View Elementary was hit the hardest in the beginning of the week and school officials were starting to see more flu at the intermediate school.

Parents are reporting Influenza A, Influenza B and also influenza-like illness and the flu is reportedly going through families. School nurses are also seeing strep throat and stomach viruses.

“We are working with administrators, staff and custodians to make sure common areas and classrooms are being cleaned thoroughly as well as providing reinforcement on illness prevention to students by encouraging hand washing, covering coughs/sneezes, and keeping hands off faces,” Mellott said.

A letter from the Berkeley/Morgan County Health Department was sent home to parents on Friday, January 24 and was also posted on the county schools Facebook page  advising parents to keep their children home from school and extracurricular activities if they have any of these symptoms:   fever greater than 100 degrees, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, general malaise or fatigue, weakness, body aches, frequent congested (wet) cough or croup cough and lots of nasal congestion/drainage with frequent nose-blowing.

Children and adults should remain home from work, school and extracurricular activities until 24 hours without fever or they’re symptom free without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

Mellott said the school system also sent out an automated call to parents on Thursday January 30 with the information in case parents hadn’t read the Health Department letter that went home with students.


Flu symptoms, complications

Influenza symptoms are fever, cough or sore throat, headache, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, chills or body aches. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can also occur, especially in children.

Serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections can occur from influenza. Complications can require hospitalization and become life-threatening or fatal. Influenza can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as asthma or congestive heart disease.

Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu can lessen flu symptoms and shorten the illness by one or two days. Community members have reported that the antiviral drug is being widely prescribed when the flu is confirmed and when patients know they’ve been exposed to someone with the flu.

Not too late for flu shots

CDC officials urge that everyone six months of age and older receive a seasonal influenza vaccine to provide protection from the flu and prevent serious flu-related complications. Pneumonia vaccines are also recommended for children and adults of all ages. Flu and pneumonia vaccines are available through county health departments, family physicians and pharmacies.

Prevention strongly urged

Public health officials are urging everyone to follow basic disease prevention steps to ward off the spread of viruses:

–Wash your hands with soap and water often to prevent flu and other illness. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available.

–Stay home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or one’s sleeve and avoid touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth to prevent spreading germs.

–Clean and disinfect commonly used objects and surfaces and limit one’s contact with others while sick to prevent them from getting sick.

–Get plenty of sleep, drink lots of liquids and get your flu and pneumonia shots if you haven’t received them yet.

Amid other flu scares, influenza still top threat

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Puerto Rico and every state except Hawaii had widespread flu activity during the week ending January 25. Some 41 states including West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia reported high levels of influenza-like illness during the week ending January 25.

A total of 64 pediatric deaths have been reported to the CDC this flu season with 14 of the deaths reported last week. There have been an estimated 19 million flu illnesses, 180,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths from the flu so far this season. Hospitalization rates are higher for children and young adults than in recent flu seasons.

Influenza A (H1N1) is increasing in proportion to influenza B/Victoria viruses. Influenza B flu strains caused many early flu cases this year.