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DC School District experiences above average absences due to influenza-like symptoms

OCT. 19, 2009

At least one H1N1 case has been confirmed

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

DASSEL-COKATO, MN - The H1N1 virus is alive in the Dassel-Cokato Public Schools, with at least one confirmed case of H1N1 and above average absences.

According to Christine Lawyer, licensed school nurse, this particular student had an underlying medical condition and was therefore tested for the virus. This student was not hospitalized and is well and back at school.

“We definitely have kids gone,” said DC Superintendent Jeff Powers regarding the increased number of absences.

Last Tuesday, the Dassel-Cokato varsity volleyball game was canceled due to six out of the 13-player-team out with flu-like symptoms, according to Activities/Community Education Director Perry Thinesen.

The girls were either sick or getting over their sickness, he noted.

There was also one injury to the team that was also a factor in postponing the game, Thinesen said.

Districts must report to the state if elementary classrooms have three or more absences due to flu-like symptoms and when schools have a 5 percent absenteeism due to flu-like symptoms, according to Lawyer.

Schools are specifically tracking students with a fever of 100 degrees or more, and a cough or sore throat.

Dassel had been reported for the first and only time thus far Oct. 8 for 5 percent absenteeism with influenza-like illness, along with two classrooms with three or more students absent due to influenza-like illnesses.

Cokato Elementary was reported for the first time Sept. 28, and again last week – a total of three times – for having a classroom with three or more students absent with influenza-like illness, according to Lawyer.

The middle school and high school were both reported last week for the first time for having 5 percent absenteeism due to influenza-like illnesses.

An average day for a school is to have 1 to 3 percent absenteeism, Powers said.

However, above average absences is common throughout Wright County with all of the schools reporting increased absences, according to Christine Austin-Roehler, spokesperson for Wright County Public Health.

The number of absences right now is more typical of the seasonal influenza season in February and March, said Austin-Roehler.

“Parents should use common sense and if children are ill, encourage them to rest and drink lots of fluid,” Lawyer said.

She also recommends people from getting sick to gargle and swab out nostrils with salt water since the virus can live in the throat and nose up to three days.

It is also important in preventing the spread of the virus to sneeze or cough into the elbow and wash hands with soap and water several times a day for at least 20 seconds, Lawyer explained.

“We will get through this,” Lawyer said.

Schools encouraged to stay open

Despite the high number of absences, districts are encouraged to stay open unless schools can’t conduct classes effectively, according to Powers.

“Keeping kids home from school (when they aren’t sick), isn’t going to keep them from getting influenza,” Powers said.

Lawyer agreed, explaining that children may be exposed elsewhere if not in school.

“Very few [children] will stay home,” Lawyer said, explaining the many young children who would be in daycare while their parents were at work or teenagers hanging out with their friends.

It’s something that looks like it’s going to have to run its course, Powers said.

H1N1 vaccines in Wright County

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 150 million doses of vaccine will ultimately be available throughout the US.

This means that anyone who wants the vaccine should be able to get it, according to Austin-Roehler.

Because the vaccine will be distributed to states in various quantities over the coming weeks, those at highest risk of complications from the novel H1N1 influenza will be targeted to receive the vaccine first.

As shipments of vaccines are received in the coming weeks, including the injectable form of the vaccine, it will be distributed to clinics and hospitals for patients who are at most risk of flu complications, according to Austin-Roehler.

Those at most risk include pregnant women, caregivers of infants under 6 months, children ages 6 months through 4 years old, and children with underlying health conditions, including diabetes and asthma.

When adequate amounts of vaccines are received in the county, community clinics will be offered.

“It may be well into November before this will occur,” said Austin-Roehler.

“Community clinics will be scheduled at several sites around the county which will be open to school-age children and those without a clinic home to receive vaccine,” she added.

When to call a health provider

The Minnesota Department of Health suggests calling a health care provider when a person:

• has difficulty breathing or chest pain.

• has gray/blue lips or skin.

• has a fever above 104º F (101º F for a child) that cannot be reduced.

• has severe or persistent vomiting.

• has a sign of dehydration.

• has seizures or uncontrolled movements.

• is unable to move an arm or leg.

• is confused or not waking up.

• improves and then symptoms return.


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