School districts in the Corridor are seeing high absence rates among its students as this season’s flu season takes hold, causing school officials to take steps to stop the spread.
This year’s flu, which includes a prominent H3N2 strain, has caused the deaths of 43 Iowans and hospitalized 747 since Oct. 1, according to the latest Iowa Department of Public Health.
While this season has most affected those over the age of 64, state health officials have reported all ages are catching the flu this year. The result has been packed emergency rooms and children staying home from school.
Samantha Rowland, 29, of Cedar Rapids, said her son missed four days of classes after catching the flu at his school, which she did not name.
Her son, six-year-old Collin Marin, had a fever of 103, body aches and was “really lethargic.” But he was healthy enough to return to school Tuesday.
“He’s with so many kids of his age, it gets passed around,” Rowland said.
According to state public health officials, influenza — a respiratory virus — is easy to spread among those in close contact, including students in school hallways and classrooms.
“Respiratory illness is spread through respiratory droplets and through the air,” said Susie Poulton, health services coordinator at the Iowa City Community School District. “It spreads much quicker, and it’s harder to prevent that spread.”
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Forty schools statewide reported more than 10 percent student absenteeism due to all illness during the week of Jan. 21. This brings the total since Oct. 1 up to 92 schools.
While no schools in the Corridor have been closed due to illness, high absentee rates have been reported at the Iowa City Community School District, with 10 percent or more of its students out due to illness this past week — at Helen Lemme Elementary, Ernest Horn Elementary and Northwest Junior High.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in illnesses,” Poulton said. “This is the highest (absent rate) we’ve had probably in the last four years.”
Linn-Mar Community School District spokesman Matthew May said the school has seen 84 reports this school year of “students having flu-related symptoms.”
However, officials from both the Cedar Rapids Community and College Community school districts said they have not noticed an unusually high absentee rate at their schools.
Rowland said about two to three students a week are gone from Collin’s first-grade class, prompting his teacher to require her students to use sanitizer and wash their hands frequently.
With two other young children at home — a one-year-old and a two-year-old — Rowland said she was worried influenza would spread to them as well.
Corridor school officials have asked parents to keep their children home from school if they exhibit symptoms such as:
l Vomiting or diarrhea in the past 24 hours
l A temperature higher than 100 degrees
l Constant coughing or heavy breathing
l Have had exposure to contagious diseases.
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School districts also are focusing prevention efforts inside their buildings. Poulton said staff at the Iowa City Community School District is taking extra care to wipe down surfaces and teachers are asking students to clean their hands frequently.
“We just want them to get better, and it prevents the spread of germs,” Poulton said.
State public health officials continue to encourage all Iowans to obtain a flu vaccine as it can help stop the spread of the virus to others.
Individuals also can help stop the spread by covering their coughs and washing their hands frequently.
Those with influenza symptoms should stay home and drink plenty of fluids.
However, individuals who have trouble breathing or are hard to wake up should be taken to the doctor.
Another indicator is if a person seems to be getting better but then suddenly gets much worse. That is often a sign that person has been infected with another infection and should be treated immediately.
Prince of Peace Catholic High School in Clinton and Unity Christian High School in Fulton, Ill., canceled classes this past week after administration reported a 21 percent and 18 percent absent rate respectively.
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