Flu hits Austin schools

Published 11:18 am Monday, January 14, 2013

Neveln Elementary School Nurse Cathy Sprau enters information during the school day Friday. A large number of Austin students have gotten the flu this year. -- Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Health officials urge students, residents to get vaccine

While the flu is especially destructive this year, area schools are watching and preparing for sick students.

Local school districts are warning residents to take care this season to keep as healthy as possible. Several schools sent home information on preventing the flu last week to parents as more students get sick.

“We’re trying to pretty much get everybody on the alert,” said Heidi Doe, school health services supervisor for Austin Public Schools.

Email newsletter signup

Doe said no Austin school has had enough sick students to mandate a report to the state Department of Public Health yet, but there are several schools statewide that have. A school must have at least three students out of every class, or more than 5 percent of its student body, sick with flu-like symptoms to warrant a report, Doe said.

That doesn’t mean students aren’t getting sick, however.

“We’re seeing more and more students get sick,” said Cathy Sprau, Neveln Elementary nurse. “We’ve been sending four or five kids home a day.”

Sprau said she has seen more fevers than any other flu-related symptom this year.

In nearby Southland Public Schools, the flu has largely missed the district thus far, according to Cheryl Renwick, Southland and LeRoy/Ostrander Public Schools nurse. There are still parents calling their children in sick, but Renwick said she heard most students were sick over the Christmas holiday and not during school time.

Yet there are plenty of things people can do to prevent getting or spreading the flu. Washing hands for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer, cleaning surfaces, drinking lots of fluids, getting enough rest, and getting the flu shot are all important this time of year.

“I feel strongly that people should still get immunized,” Renwick said.

Perhaps the most important thing is to stay home if you have the flu, so as to not spread it at work or school.

“It’s easier said than done to stay home, but it’s very important to limit the spread of the disease,” Doe said.

Renwick agrees, saying sickness is an issue for Southland students who often have to go to other school districts for athletic, academic and musical events.

“They’re not just isolated in our school district, they’re going to other communities,” she said.

Though flu cases spiked in Austin over the holidays, and Mower County health officials said last week the number of flu cases in the area slightly declined. Yet state public health officials are still urging caution as the number of flu cases statewide increases, as 23 flu-related deaths took place this winter, according to a state report last week. Local health officials say there are plenty of flu shots still available.