No class, disinfect. No children please. Temporary visitor restrictions. Schools, facilities and Box Butte County overall is contending the brunt of the flu season. This week local schools saw continued absences due to confirmed cases and students with flu-like symptoms. Medical and senior care centers have announced visitor restrictions.
Influenza is an unavoidable part of the year, usually reaching its height sometime over the winter. In the Panhandle, and throughout Nebraska, the virus’ activity is listed as “widespread,” said Melody J. Leisy BSN, RN, Panhandle Region Medical Response System Coordinator (PRMRS), earlier this week.
St. Agnes Academy (SAA) took preventive measures against spreading influenza, and other communicable diseases, Wednesday by closing school and disinfecting the building.
SAA Principal Rodney Wilhelm said the school has 10-12 confirmed cases (Type A) and had been sending two to three children home a day starting last week though “it really started Monday.” He consulted the school board, and a physician prior to the one-day closure to help “stop the spread” and disinfect. Wilhelm noted that there has also been some other sickness not confirmed as Type A flu, but with the same symptoms.
In a phone interview with the Times-Herald Wednesday, Wilhelm said so far his staff is doing pretty good. “They all came in today and cleaned up their rooms,” he said. St. Agnes hosted a flu shot clinic during October. Wilhelm said the vaccinations were for anybody with many staff members and students taking advantage.
Thursday morning SAA resumed class. Wilhelm emphasized the school is a better, cleaner environment, and they are advising any children who are ill, especially with flu-like symptoms, to stay home. The principal expressed his thanks for “really good parent and board support.”
“We have received reports from schools in Cheyenne, Box Butte, and Morrill County with increased students absent due to illness. Majority of the symptoms are respiratory symptoms like those of Influenza. A few are gastrointestinal illness,” Leisy said. “Hospitalizations related to influenza continue to be average for this time of year. Clinics have reported those seeking medical care are testing positive for Influenza Type A which is consistent across the State of Nebraska and Nation. Some are testing positive for other respiratory illnesses typical for this time of year like RSV, Strep, Coronavirus, and Rhinovirus. All cause upper respiratory disease symptoms: cough, runny nose, fever, headache, and sore throat.
“Reminders to wash your hands, stay home if you are ill to get plenty of rest and fluids. It is not too late to get your flu shot.”
“Current level for flu is hard to access,” Superintendent Dr. Troy Unzicker said Friday of Alliance public schools. “Many parents are holding healthy students out to avoid flu symptoms.”
Numbers at Emerson Elementary have been steady all week at about normal to a few higher than normal rates of absences, he said. Numbers at Grandview Elementary have been at normal until today (Friday). “ Slightly up today,” Unzicker said.
Numbers at the Middle School started up but have declined through the week to nearly normal, while numbers at the High School have slightly increased during the week, Unzicker noted. Slightly above normal especially in the freshman class, which causes postponement of the basketball game on Thursday.
“School and classes have continued as scheduled,” Unzicker said. “Obviously, more attention to cleaning and disinfecting is taking place in all buildings. Students are being reminded of proper hygiene to protect themselves.
“The middle grade levels appear to be most heavily affected. The middle school absences have decreased during the week. The weekend will come at a good time to give everyone a chance to get healthy.”
Public accessibility is another barometer of flu activity. Hospital and senior care facility administrators have announced restrictions meant to protect the health of patients and residents who are at greater risk of complications.
Box Butte General Hospital has instituted a temporary visitor restriction for the hospital. “For the protection of our patients and staff and in an effort to control the spread of infection within our hospital, public visitation is restricted until further notice,” Infection Control Nurse Mary Mockerman said. “Please do not make social visits to patients if you are feeling ill, have a cold, cough, fever, sore throat, body aches, or diarrhea.” The hospital is discouraging all school-age children and adolescents from entering the hospital for social visits at this time.
Please note this restriction does not apply to those seeking medical attention and is for social visits only.
Highland Park Care Center is not allowing children to visit at this time. Visitors that have not received a flu shot must wear a surgical-style mask.
Panhandle Public Health District participates in the State’s School Surveillance Program. Leisy shared information, comparing reports (see accompanying graphic for week ending Jan. 12)
• Week ending Jan 6, 2018 — activity level was considered high and widespread.
• Week ending Jan. 5, 2019 — activity level is high and widespread.
The state of Nebraska reports higher numbers of Influenza A this year so far, she said. “The CDC forecast is the flu activity is likely to increase in next 2 weeks with a 65 percent chance of highest peak for the season will occur by the end of January.”
Regardless of current levels or flu shot availability a segment of the population avoids the vaccine. One reason cited has been the will not match the prevalent strain.
“Yes, the prediction so far reported on the Flu Shot has been good. (The shot does cover at least two strains of Flu A and 1 Flu B in the trivalent vaccine. Some quad vaccine has four coverages. “It depends on the vaccine received),” Leisy said, adding she could not find current rate or percent coverage. It is difficult to keep up with but preliminary reports for December stated good coverage, she said.
There has been one reported Influenza-like-Illness admission to Box Butte General Hospital in the past week ending Jan. 12, Leisy said, and no reported deaths due to influenza to date in Box Butte County.