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Flu now widespread; city schools close

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By Calen McKinney

It's considered "widespread" across the state and its effects are being felt across Taylor County.

The Kentucky Department for Public Health declared flu activity as "widespread" across Kentucky last week.

That activity has also appeared at local schools.

Campbellsville Independent Schools cancelled classes last Thursday and Friday because of flu-like symptoms and stomach viruses, according to Director of Pupil Personnel Jeff Richardson.

"A number of schools throughout the state are closed due to the same type of illness," he said.

Being "widespread," according to the Kentucky Health and Family Services Cabinet, indicates the highest level of flu activity with confirmed flu cases occurring in at least half of the regions across Kentucky.

Richardson said Campbellsville Schools' district-wide attendance rate has fallen below 89 percent for more than five days. That figure, he said, averages to more than 120 students a day out for sickness.

Richardson said he doesn't know yet how, or if, the days will be made up.

"Keeping the best interest of our students in mind, the Board of Education will decide on how the missed school days will be made up," he said.

Taylor County Schools Director of Pupil Personnel Angela Wheat said Taylor County's attendance rates have been steady.

"We are seeing several cases of chicken pox at Taylor County Elementary School and [a] stomach virus," Wheat said. "Our attendance has been at or around 93 percent for the week. Right now, we are closely monitoring our attendance but have no plans of closing."

Richardson said Campbellsville school officials consider several issues when considering canceling school because of illness.

"First [considered is] the well-being of the students," he said. "By closing school, we are trying to keep the illness from spreading and allowing additional time for the sick students to recover without missing school. The same applies to our staff.

"Second, there comes a point when the school system begins to lose money by staying open when attendance is low. Public schools' funding from the state is based on average daily attendance of students."

Department for Public Health officials stated in a recent press release that vaccinations for the flu and pneumonia are still available.

"We are letting our residents know that it is not too late to vaccinate against flu and pneumonia, especially since there is a plentiful supply of flu vaccine this year," said Dr. William Hacker, commissioner of DPH and acting undersecretary for health at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

"An annual flu vaccine - either the flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine - is the best way to reduce the chances of getting the flu," he stated.

Taylor County Health Department RN Ruthie Bender said her office still has a few flu vaccines available. She said local doctors' offices might also have some of the vaccines.

However, getting the vaccine doesn't necessarily mean people won't get the flu, according to Christine Weyman, medical director of the Lake Cumberland District Health Department.

Weyman said the vaccine may not cover all types of the flu but those who did get a vaccine may not experience flu symptoms as severe as someone who did not get the vaccine.

Symptoms of the flu virus include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches, vomiting and diarrhea according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

Flu is responsible for about 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths a year in the United States, according to the Health and Family Services Cabinet press release. Infants and the elderly population are those most at risk of serious illness, hospitalization or death from the flu.

Although almost anyone who wants protection against the flu can receive a flu shot, the press release states, annual flu vaccinations are recommended for all children ages 6 months to 4 years; adults age 65 or older; people age 2 to 64 with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer, asthma or diabetes; women who will be pregnant during flu season; residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities; children 6 months to 18 years old on chronic aspirin therapy; health care workers; household contacts of children less than 6 months old; and caregivers of people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe complications from the flu.

All healthy individuals ages 50 to 64 are also strongly recommended to receive the vaccine.

In addition to flu vaccine, the press release states, state health department officials encourage all adults age 65 or older and others in high-risk groups to ask their health care provider about the pneumoccal vaccine. This vaccine can help prevent pneumonia, one of the flu's most serious and potentially deadly complications.

For more information about flu and pneumonia vaccine availability, contact the Taylor County Health Department at 465-4191.

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.