Flu not hitting Webster schools hard

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With flu season in full swing, the doctors’ offices might be seeing an influx of patients with flu-like symptoms, but Webster Parish schools don’t seem to be feeling the effects yet.

Jude Weaver, SIS data collector for Webster Parish schools, said from the beginning of this school year to date, only 43 children parish wide have been out with cold or flu-like symptoms.

“We did have kids out for other reasons,” she said, “and that may be for doctors’ appointments, dentist appointments or stomach aches.”

Oreata Banks, principal at E.S. Richardson, said she’s seen an increase in the number of students out with cold or flu-like symptoms, but not alarmingly so.

“We have an increase in stomach viruses and influenza,” she said, “so it’s a combination.”

And there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of flu vaccinations either.

Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Phillips said she has not seen a shortage of the flu vaccine in her office – with the shot or the nasal spray – but she has seen an increase in the number of patients with flu-like symptoms over the last couple of weeks.

The flu vaccination may be less effective this year, U.S. health officials say. Phillips said she’s heard the reports but the patients coming through her office present a different story.

“The flu I’ve seen this year, the symptoms are milder, which is kind of perplexing,” she said. “The fevers are not as high, the kids are not sick as long. Whatever strain is out there is not as virulent (extremely poisonous or pathogenic). I’ve seen kids a lot sicker in the past. It’s been an interesting flu season.”

She explained the vaccination is not necessarily to prevent the flu itself. It’s meant to
prevent death from it.

“Our hope is that if you still get it, at least your immune system is primed to prevent death from it,” she said. “The ultimate goal in any vaccine is to prevent death.”

The spread of the flu virus could slow down over the Christmas holidays, Phillips said. With kids getting out of school, the chances of passing on the virus are reduced dramatically.

Influenza has two strains, A and B, she said, but it doesn’t make any difference which one physicians vaccinate for, only in the medications that are prescribed.

“The vaccine is manufactured a year in advance, so it’s kind of a gamble to see which strains will be most prevalent,” she said.

Weaver said she’s seen outbreaks spread across the state, or cluster within school systems. She used an example saying if certain buses are designed for one school, then any “outbreak” would be somewhat contained to that school. However, if a bus services multiple schools, an “outbreak” might spread over a farther radius.

“Sometimes in the past, I’ve seen it ‘walk’ across the state,” she said. “They might be getting slaughtered with (the flu) down south and we won’t get any. Then, they may be over theirs and it wanders into our parish. So, it really depends on where the strain starts and the interaction. But so far, Webster Parish has had no real problems with it.

If a student in school has not been vaccinated, Webster Parish can keep a child out of school until they are vaccinated or until such time the incubation period of the virus has passed.

“If an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease occurs,” the policy reports, “upon the recommendation of the state office of public health, school administrators may exclude from attendance unimmunized students until the appropriate disease incubation period has expired, or the unimmunized person presents evidence of immunization.”

Students are required to be vaccinated before beginning school for the first time and again by the sixth grade, or 11 years of age. These immunizations include MMR, diphtheria, among others.

Minden Medical Center has implemented precautions and restrictions on visitors due to the “widespread flu activity in Louisiana.

“Louisiana also has the second highest reported numbers of influenza-like illness, designating our state as having a ‘high’ level of activity,” officials with the Office of Public Health report.

The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, recommends the following tips to help prevent the spread of the flu:

Avoid close contact.

Stay at home when you are sick.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

Wash your hands often, and if soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Clean and disinfect surfaces touched often to help prevent the spread of germs.

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