Upshur County Schools battling a slew of flu-related absences this month

Also: Commonsense tips for preventing the spread of germs and flu-like illnesses

BUCKHANNON – Upshur County Schools experienced a larger than average number of absences among its students, teachers and service personnel last week.

The culprit? Cold and flu season.

Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus verified the large percentage of absences during an interview with My Buckhannon on Monday.

“Yes, we had different illnesses – it is the cold and flu season,” Stankus said. “We had quite a few students absent last week.”

Stankus noted absences at two schools in particular were especially high but declined to name the schools. Classes were canceled county-wide Wednesday and Thursday due to extreme cold temperatures.

As the illnesses spread, the schools sent out an informational flier from the National Principals Association titled “Fight the Flu and Germs.”

“This is a national problem,” she explained. “We have told parents if they feel their child has a fever, if they are nauseated or if they just don’t feel well, they should keep that child home for at least 24 hours. We want them to make those good choices to keep their children at home when they are sick, so they do not spread those germs to other children.”

Stankus said when a parent writes an excuse for the student, the student’s absence is excused.

“That is within our absence policy,” she noted. “Parents can write up to five parent notes to keep their children home. If they take the child to see their doctor, they can send in a doctor’s note.”

Stankus reported that as of Monday, all school attendance numbers were back to normal in all Upshur County Schools, except for one.

With last week’s illnesses, Stankus said the schools are upping their game in an attempt to head off the spread of germs and illness.

“What we have done in the schools is take extra precautions in terms of cleaning,” she said. “We have even hired additional custodial staff to clean the schools – disinfecting classrooms and those touch points such as handles, and the places where students and staff will touch.”

Another precaution being utilized is teaching – and reminding – students and staff about precautions they can take to prevent illness, such as keeping their hands away from their eyes, noses and mouths.

“We are reminding everyone about good handwashing procedures,” Stankus said. “Another thing is vaccinations. That is a parent choice. It is best to get vaccinated for the flu in the fall, but it is not too late to get vaccinated for the flu now. Physicians have told us that even those children who have been vaccinated can get the flu since there are different strands. But they tell us those who have been vaccinated for the flu who get the flu will not have such a severe case.”

The report to parents on fighting the flu and germs is available online www.naesp.org.

Sue McKisic, nurse director at the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, said although there were lots of school absences in the state last week, there were below average reports of flu to the state Bureau for Public Health from the central region, which includes Upshur, Kanawha, Putnam, Lewis, Webster and Braxton counties.

“Last week we were below the state average in the number of confirmed cases of flu in this area,” McKisic said.

McKisic said it is not too late for those who have not received the vaccine – but wish to receive it – to do so.

“This year, the flu vaccine is quadrivalent, so it covers the four major flu strains which are A, B, C and D,” she said. “The Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department offers flu shots daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.”

She said in order to keep from passing the flu and germs people should practice good handwashing methods and clean items with which people come in contact frequently, such as door knobs, keyboards and telephones with an alcohol pad or a Clorox wipe.

“TV remotes, iPad screens and other things that the kids share should be wiped down, especially if someone is sick,” McKisic said. “The CDC website has lots of ideas for preventing the spread of germs.”

The Centers for Disease Control has a slew of information about the flu and recommends folks take three actions to fight the flu, including 1) taking time to get a flu vaccine; 2) taking every day preventative action to stop the spread of germs, and 3) if diagnosed with the flu and prescribed an antiviral drug, be sure to take the medicine as the doctor prescribes.

The CDC Facebook page said as of last Wednesday in the United States, there have been approximately 9.6 million illnesses, 4.6 million medical visits and 114,000 hospitalizations related to flu. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills, runny or stuffy nose, headache and fatigue.

The site also says when someone in your family gets the flu, limit contact with others as much as possible. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and then throw the tissue away and immediately wash your hands using soap and water.

Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with your germs and stay home if you are sick – don’t go out until you are well.