By Judy Reed
The latest statistics on influenza show that schools have been hit four times harder this year than in the previous three years.
According to the Kent County Health Department, at the end of last week, 2.36 percent of students across the county were out with influenza. Between 2006 and 2008, the average at this time of year was only .52 percent, or just over one-half of one percent.
“While we are seeing an unprecedented number of school-aged students out with flu-like illnesses very early in the season,” said Cathy Raevsky, Administrative Health Officer for KCHD, “this does not come as a surprise. We anticipated that seasonal and H1N1 influenza would be very active this fall, and that’s exactly what has happened as kids spend more time in close quarters and flu season gets underway.”
Many schools across West Michigans are closing due to the number of student absences. According to Cedar Springs Superintendent Ron McDermed, they also have seen an increase in absences, but not enough to close. “Our buildings today are running between nine and 14 percent absences,” said McDermed. “Although this is higher than normal for this time of year, it is not cause for alarm. Buildings and districts closing are in the 25 percent range. The idea of closing is to stop the spread of the virus, so if we begin to notice a marked spike upward, we would close to protect the well-being of our kids.”
According to Assistant Superintendent Dave Cairy, they call the numbers of absences in daily to the Health Department, who then keeps track of how many cases they have.
The KCHD statistics do not differentiate between the different types of influenza.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that spreads through respiratory secretions from an infected person. Most people recover from the flu without needing medical treatment. Simple precautions can help prevent the spread of flu. KCHD strongly recommends that anyone with flu-like symptoms stay home for at least 24 hours after fever subsides without the use of fever-reducing medications. Also, it is important to cover your mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and wash hands often to avoid spreading germs.
Vaccination is the number one way to prevent the flu. The Health Department recommends getting a seasonal flu vaccine as early as possible. Because H1N1 was identified too late to be included in this year’s seasonal flu shot, two shots are recommended this year—one for seasonal influenza and one for novel H1N1 influenza. Novel H1N1 flu vaccinations are expected to be widely available in the coming months and when they are, they will be administered by area physicians, pharmacies, and special clinics at KCHD. As novel H1N1 flu vaccine clinic dates and times become available, they will be posted at stickittotheflu.com as well as on the vaccination information line, (616) 742-4FLU.
Check out our health section on page 7 to find out where flu shots are being offered next week.