The flu is hitting Crawford County hard right now and it’s probably a safe bet that everyone reading this in the local area has seen someone struck down with the virus, or been a victim of the sickness themselves.
In Steelville, the school district has seen both students and staff become ill, including both the elementary and high school principals. “It hit us last week,” Superintendent Nathan Holder reported. Early in the week, a number of elementary and middle school students were either sent home sick or simply out of school due to illness, but Holder said the attendance seemed to stabilize later in the week. However, the high school seemed to have more cases towards the end of the week.
On Thursday, attendance rates were 87.1 percent at the elementary, 92.8 percent at the middle school, and 84.8 percent at the high school. Friday showed a slight increase at the elementary to 88.7 percent, a drop at the middle school to 88.1 percent, and a drop at the high school to 79.2 percent. Monday morning numbers showed increases across the board: to 91.1 percent at the elementary, 89.3 percent at the middle school, and 84 percent at the high school.
“Hopefully we are turning a corner,” Holder said. He also noted, “Not all of these absences are related to illness, but it is safe to say the majority would be. We will continue to monitor the number of illnesses daily.”
SMS Principal Keith Roskens noted that the combination of students being out for several days and then their teacher being absent has “sort of a multiplying effect and that has a negative impact on learning.”
The Steelville Elementary School Registered Nurse, Katie Killeen reported, “Here in the elementary, I have seen double the amount of students that I usually do in one day. We have had more of the gastrointestinal flu virus affect us. There have been a lot of stomachaches and a lot of temperatures. I have asked parents to keep their children at home until they are back to themselves 100 percent. Sonya Nickles is our middle school LPN that works alongside of me. In that building, as well as the high school, there have been a lot of temperatures and sore throats. It is safe to say that there have been a variety of illnesses affecting our school.”
At all three schools, custodial staff has been working hard to disinfect desks and table tops, door handles, and other frequently touched surfaces. Students are encouraged to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently and cough or sneeze into their sleeves. Killeen added, “We have also been instructing parents to keep their children home for 24 hours after their child is fever free without the aid of medication. We also encourage parents to keep their children home for 24 hours after they last vomited or had diarrhea to make sure that they are no longer contagious.”
Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Some also have vomiting and diarrhea, but that is more common in children than adults, according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control).
Linda McMurphy, an RN with the Crawford County Health Department, and the department’s Communicable Disease Consultant, reported that they are definitely seeing cases of influenza, but said it’s difficult to provide accurate numbers since several local health providers (including Missouri Baptist Hospital in Sullivan) don’t report their incidents to the health department. She noted that, in what they have received, they have seen mostly cases of Influenza B, but are now starting to see some of Influenza A. According to the CDC, these are the viruses that cause seasonal epidemics of the flu almost every winter in the United States, while the emergence of a new and very different influenza virus would be one that could cause an influenza pandemic (a worldwide spread of the disease).
The CDC also says, “Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.”
As a result, preventive measures, as indicated by McMurphy, are for a person to cover when they cough or sneeze, wash their hands before eating and as able throughout the day, and, if they are sick, to stay at home.
But the best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot. “If you haven’t got a flu shot, you need to get it,” McMurphy said. Even though the flu season is well under way, flu vaccine can protect a person from contracting the disease. The vaccine does take about two weeks to build immunity, so she encouraged people to get shots right away. Even people who have already been sick are encouraged to get the vaccine, for a couple of reasons. First, unless it has been identified positively as the flu, it could have been another respiratory virus with similar symptoms. Second, it could prevent a person from becoming sick with another strain of the flu.
If a person becomes ill, McMurphy stated it is important to get plenty of rest and to drink lots of fluids. Because the sickness is viral, there is not much a doctor can do except provide comfort measures for the symptoms, unless they see the physician within the first two to three days of the onset of the illness. Then, an antiviral drug such as Tamiflu may be prescribed. These medications can lessen symptoms and shorten the time of sickness by a day or two and may prevent complications like pneumonia.
McMurphy summarized her advice, “If you are sick, stay home. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or pull your shirt out to cover it—don’t sneeze or cough into the environment. If you are feeling sick, contact your doctor because Tamiflu may help.”