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Schools take precautions for flu season

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By Calen McKinney

 

It might be widespread throughout the state, but a public health official says there haven’t been any confirmed cases reported in Taylor County this flu season.

Local school officials say they have seen illness in their schools, however, and attendance has dipped a bit lately. Nevertheless, they say there haven’t been any discussions about closing school.

Kentucky Department for Public Health officials reported last week that flu activity in Kentucky has increased from “regional” to “widespread.”

According to a state news release, “widespread” is the highest level, indicating an increased flu-like activity or flu outbreaks in at least half of the state’s regions. Flu activity levels are tracked weekly as part of Centers for Disease Control’s national flu surveillance system.

The flu season can begin as early as October and last through May, and, according to the release, usually peaks between January and March.

Those who have the flu can experience fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Flu is very contagious, according to the CDC.

Amy Tomlinson, public health services coordinator for the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, to which Taylor County Health Department belongs, said there haven’t been any confirmed flu cases in Taylor County so far this flu season.

“However I am sure there is influenza-like illness, probably even flu cases out there,” she said.

“Residents should not be panicked about the flu. Just remember to protect yourself and your family by getting the vaccine and practicing good hand washing habits.”

Taylor County Superintendent Roger Cook said there have been some confirmed flu cases at Taylor County Elementary School, which has been hit the hardest.

Attendance has fallen at between 92 and 94 percent, he said, and typically runs in the upper 90 percentages.

“As long as we can stay about 89 percent, we can keep the door open,” Cook said. “We are losing some attendance money, but not enough to warrant making up the school days in the summer.”

Across town at Campbellsville Independent Schools, Superintendent Mike Deaton says there haven’t been any confirmed flu cases, though attendance dipped the week before last, improved early last week and dropped again late in the week.

“We always keep an eye on attendance, but there has been no discussion to this point to consider dismissing school due to sickness,” he said. “At this point in the semester, it would have to be pretty drastic to consider dismissing school. Semester finals and holiday programs are occurring in the next few days and I think it would be in everyone’s best interest to be in session for these last few days.”

When illness is going around, Deaton said, Campbellsville staff members try to sanitize the schools’ classrooms, restrooms and any areas where germs could be transferred more often than usual.

Nurses at Campbellsville schools are invaluable to care for students while on campus, Deaton said.

“They help make the determination as to whether a child needs to be sent home or is capable of finishing the day. Without their help, I can’t imagine how we could function on a daily basis.

“Unfortunately, we are currently in a situation where we may lose our nurses due to funding issues. I’m hopeful that our legislature can help keep them in our schools.”

To help keep students feeling well, Cook said, school officials stress correct hand washing techniques and they use disinfectant when cleaning.

Cook said there are nurses at each of Taylor County’s schools to educate students and faculty about how to stay healthy as well as provide training and information to parents.

The last time Taylor County and Campbellsville schools closed for illness was for a few days in 2010.

For those experiencing flu-like symptoms, Tomlinson says there are two types of tests to confirm a diagnosis. One is a nasal swab that provides quick results. The other is another type of swab sent to a state laboratory for testing. Results of that test take longer, she said.

Tomlinson says the best preventative measure residents can take is to get the flu vaccine, which is still available at local doctors’ offices, pharmacies and the Taylor County Health Department.

The flu vaccine can be given at any time during the flu season, Tomlinson said, and now is a good time to get it since it takes about two weeks for a person’s immunity to develop and offer protection against the flu.

“Everyone should also remember to wash their hands frequently during the winter months, cover their coughs and sneezes and stay home when they are feeling ill,” she said.

There are two types of flu vaccines, Tomlinson said, the flu shot and a nasal spray. Flu shots are given with a needle. There are three flu shots being produced in the United States now, she said.

For decades, Tomlinson said, flu shots have been given into a muscle such as the arm. The nasal spray, a vaccine made with live but weakened flu viruses, does not cause the flu, she said.

For more information about the flu or the availability of the flu vaccine, call the Taylor County Health Department at 465-4191 or visit healthalerts.ky.gov.