Tuesday, 16 July 2024

Officials: School absenteeism increases as influenza season arrives

LAKE COUNTY – As the traditional flu season arrives, the usual seasonal illnesses – coupled with concerns about the H1N1 virus – are leading to high absentee rates at local schools, officials reported Tuesday.

Up to 20 percent of students in some Lake County Schools were absent from the classroom last week, according to a joint report Tuesday from the Lake County Public Health Department and the Lake County Office of Education.

Although reasons for absence are not tracked in detail, much of the drop in attendance is attributed to a rise in influenza cases, according to Lake County Health Officer Dr. Karen Tait.

Only hospitalized cases are currently reportable to local public health authorities, but a rise in influenza-like-illness has been evident through informal tracking of outpatient cases and calls from the public, Tait reported.

Testing at the state’s Viral and Rickettsial Disease Laboratory indicates that the Pandemic 2009 H1N1 Influenza A virus continues to be the predominant strain of influenza A that is currently circulating, officials reported.

“It is safe to assume that the increase in flu-like illness is attributable to this new virus,” Tait said.

Tait said that, up until now, Lake County has had only four hospitalized cases resulting from Pandemic 2009 H1N1 Influenza A. Most cases can be treated at home and resolve like other forms of influenza.

However, along with increased numbers of outpatient influenza patients, there has been an increase in hospitalized cases suspected to be infected with the 2009 H1N1 strain and awaiting laboratory confirmation, said she.

Lake County Public Health and Lake County Office of Education have been working closely together on influenza issues since the first appearance of the new H1N1 pandemic strain virus in Spring 2009.

“School districts continue to provide teachers, school staff, and students with information and support in regards to ways to protect against the flu,” said Lake County Superintendent of Schools Dave Geck.

Geck said schools throughout the county have emphasized good hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and cleaning of frequently touched environmental surfaces.

Lake County Office of Education Healthy Start and AmeriCorps programs most recently collaborated with county schools in disseminating H1N1 information at back to school nights and facilitating classroom based “Germ” lessons for students.

“The first concern was educating our students on healthy habits, such as hand hygiene,” said AmeriCorps Director Rob Young. “Promoting healthy habits limits the spread of germs, which reduces the chances of becoming ill with the flu.”

Young believes “the second concern is distancing the healthy students from the sick students.”

Of concern is whether parents are keeping ill children home while they are infectious with influenza.

Although guidelines from the Centers from Disease Control say that children can return to school 24 hours after resolution of fever (without the use of fever-reducing drugs), Lake County Public Health recommends adhering to earlier recommendations that call for seven days at home in addition to being fever-free for a full twenty-four hours. This more conservative approach considers that children may shed virus for longer periods of time than adults.

“The hope is to keep schools open, if possible, recognizing that wholesale dismissal of kids from school creates hardships for families and may result in greater transmission of infection in other settings, such as informal daycare arrangements,” said Tait.

However, the current approach requires the cooperation of all families and staff to keep ill persons away from the classroom.

“It is probably not possible to keep infectious people away 100 percent of the time because they may become contagious a day before their symptoms develop,” said Tait. “Effective control of disease transmission requires a combination of excluding infectious persons and good infection control measures in the classroom.”

Lake County Public Health will continue to work closely with Lake County Office of Education and individual schools as necessary to monitor absenteeism related to influenza illness.

“Although we still hope to avoid school closures, that option will be considered if we believe that ongoing transmission of infection is occurring in the classroom, as opposed to other settings where students congregate,” said Tait.

The new Pandemic 2009 H1N1 vaccine is expected to arrive in significant quantities in November, said Tait.

Currently, small supplies are available through several local clinics and doctors’ offices that treat young children. As larger quantities of vaccine arrive, more widespread vaccination efforts will help to curtail the spread of influenza, she said.

Since the regular seasonal influenza may eventually surface at any point during the flu season, both adults and children are also encouraged to be vaccinated with both seasonal influenza vaccine and, when it becomes available, H1N1 Pandemic influenza vaccine, officials reported.

Information about vaccination opportunities for Pandemic 2009 H1N1 Influenza A vaccine will be provided as soon as it is available.

Information on the virus can be found at www.cdph.ca.gov/HealthInfo/discond/Pages/SwineInfluenza.aspx .

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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