While an early and intense flu season has meant more students and teachers out of the classroom, local school officials said illnesses are not dramatically changing their operations.
While an early and intense flu season has meant more students and teachers out of the classroom, local school officials said illnesses are not dramatically changing their operations. Officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment warned Kansans recently that while the peak for influenza-like illness (ILI) infection rates is typically seen in February, the percentage of patients seeking healthcare at certain outpatient facilities exhibiting symptoms of ILI in early January had already exceeded that of any time last year. At the height of the 2011-2012 season, KDHE said about 3.4 percent of those admitted to those facilities were diagnosed with ILI. At the end of the first week of this year, the number was twice that. “The typical peak for cases of ILI in Kansas occurs in February, and the rates we are observing now are higher and earlier than what we usually see,” said Dr. Robert Moser, Kansas state health officer. The impact has been felt, to some extent, in local schools. Randy Bagby, superintendent for the Lansing School District, said there have been student absences, but not significantly more than usual for the flu season. “Where it’s most noticeable is in my faculty and staff,” he said. Bagby said Monday saw a high volume of teachers and staff members leave sick in the middle of the day. Jake Potter, spokesman for the Leavenworth Public Schools, said Leavenworth too has seen a higher-than-normal number of absences due to ILI. “Part of what makes it challenging for us is not everyone who is sick goes to the doctor,” he said, meaning the exact rate of ILI infection in the district is hard to pin down. According to KDHE, symptoms of influenza include fever, dry cough, extreme tiredness and muscle aches. Infection can be complicated by pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and dehydration. It can also worsen other chronic conditions. KDHE officials urged influenza vaccinations for everyone age 6 and older. School officials here say they are taking precautions and urging other efforts to stem the spread of influenza. “Through our custodial staff, we’re using about twice as much disinfectant as we normally do,” Bagby said. Potter said the Leavenworth staff is taking similar precautions, prioritizing heavily-used surfaces like keyboards and doorhandles. He added another part of the preventative measures include the annual reminder to parents, students and staff alike on the importance of proper hand-washing in stopping the spread of the flu. At Lansing Elementary School, where students wash their hands in the sinks located in the hallways for increased supervision, ensuring that students are doing that is a little easier, Bagby said. However, he also said officials in the district have been giving informal advice as well. Both say those types of measures are not out of the ordinary for the schools. “That’s the kind of information that we would share during any winter season,” Potter said. “But we’re doing that proactively now.”