Compiled by Cheryl Hartz, Sue Tone and Lisa Irish
|Courtesy The Arizona Dept. of Health Services|
Prescott Valley Tribune
Nancy Vallely, longtime school nurse at Glassford Hill Middle School, gathered statistics on student absences because of illness from the Humboldt Unified School District's elementary, middle and high school for the past three weeks in January.
She noted that school statistics do not separate influenza cases from upper respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. She also said most absences are not confirmed flu-like illnesses, and many parents aren't taking their children to the doctor for testing.
During the first week back to school (Jan. 7-11) after the two-week holiday break, absences in the Humboldt District ranged from 1 to 3 percent for a 2.5 percent average.
The next two weeks showed a significant increase. Between Jan. 14 and 18, the range was between 2 and 9 percent, for an average of 5.5 percent, while this past week's average was 5 percent, from a range of 2 to 7.5 percent.
Hardest hit was Bradshaw Mountain Middle School with 9 percent, followed by Lake Valley Elementary and Bradshaw Mountain High, both with 7.5 percent.
"School nurses are reporting that many students are staying home for three to four days in a row," Vallely said. "We follow the CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines and advise parents to keep their children home until they have been fever free for 24 hours. Parents are getting the message about keeping kids out."
She said the week before Christmas break and the week after it, 4 percent of Glassford Hill students were out with contagious illnesses. In the past two weeks, that number rose to 6 percent.
"Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough and get plenty of rest!" Vallely stressed.
HUSD Human Resources Director Dan Streeter said the typical student absenteeism rate runs about 3 percent. He noted that the flu season hit harder earlier and in a more compact time frame this year for teachers and staff as well as students.
"A year ago, during that same time period, it was at 6 percent for teachers and staff. Over the past three weeks, the absenteeism rate has been 9.9 percent," he said.
The district includes money in its budget for substitutes. Streeter said he found it ironic that the person from whom he requested the statistics was out sick. And so was her substitute.
For the current flu season, which started Sept. 30, Yavapai County reported 10 confirmed cases of flu, five in the past month, according to the most recent Arizona Department of Health Services influenza report for the week of Jan. 6 through 12.
This past Tuesday, Yavapai County reported a Verde Valley preschooler was its first confirmed influenza-associated pediatric death in nearly three years.
The confirmed flu cases reported represent a small proportion of the true number of people who develop the flu, because many people do not visit the doctor when ill, said David McAtee, public information officer for Yavapai County Community Health Services.
"It has tapered a little bit in Yavapai County, but not as much as we'd have liked it to," McAtee said. "We thought with an early start to flu season, we'd have an early end, but we could see more cases into February."
The number of lab-confirmed flu cases this year follows the trend of two years ago with a sharp spike in cases from Jan. 5 to Jan. 12, which was nearly triple the number of confirmed cases reported last year, according to an Arizona Department of Health Services chart included here.
Yavapai County Community Health recommends receiving a flu vaccine and noted "we're not in any danger of running out of vaccine right now," McAtee said.
"Even if you've had the flu this season, consider getting the vaccine," McAtee said. "We've seen a lot of strain A of the flu so far, but we're seeing more of strain B now. The shot can give you protection from strain B."