School absences double in flu season

For two weeks, Catawba County schools have seen absentees double among students, thanks to the flu.

"We have been on flu surveillance for two weeks," said Rhonda Stikeleather, Catawba County Public Health school nurse supervisor.

Stikeleather said there was a noticeable increase in absentees at Startown and Mountain View elementary schools.

On Jan. 31, Startown Elementary School reported 100 absences, followed by 103 absences Feb. 1. The absentee number slowly decreased and was down to 37 students absent Feb. 10. The school's total enrollment is 640.

"We seem to be on the mend ... I hope," said Barbara Bell, Startown Elementary principal. "Our numbers have started to drop. There are some cases of people who are getting another round of (the flu)."

Mountain View Elementary School came close to the 100-mark for absences, but stayed in the 60 range for the last two weeks. The school's total enrollment is 732.

"There is a lot of flu coming around," Stikeleather said. "Parents are reporting back of confirmation of flu (for children)."

Flu symptoms last five to seven days. Students and teachers are asked to stay at home until they are without a fever for 24 hours. Stikeleather said the no-fever rule applies to all people suffering flu-like symptoms, and everyone is asked to go at least 24 hours without taking a fever-reducing medicine to ensure the fever subsided.

"(The rule) helps prevent the spread of the illness," she said.

Laura Ingenito, assistant principal at Clyde Campbell Elementary School, said on several occasions, school officials sent children home because their fevers were not completely gone.

"If the kids keep coming back (with a low-grade fever), they'll keep passing (the flu) around," Ingenito said.

From Jan. 31-Feb. 3, Clyde Campbell Elementary had 57-75 students absent out of a total enrollment of 543.

Over at Catawba Elementary School, assistant principal Rene Stilwell said it isn't only students missing school, but also bus drivers and teachers.

"We've had a lot of substitute teachers and bus drivers," Stilwell said.

To continue educating students on preventing illness, Stilwell said on the school's daily morning news show, students and teachers are reminded about hand washing. Also throughout the school, televisions scroll messages displaying precautions for the flu.

"We are trying our best to prevent it," said Stilwell, adding the school's custodians clean student desks and common areas daily to kill germs. "So many kids are getting it. It's hard to keep it from spreading."

From Feb. 2-10, Catawba Elementary saw its highest absentee numbers ranging from 34-51, with a total enrollment of 496.

Other than the flu, Stikeleather said strep throat and a stomach virus are also traveling within the community.

"It seems to be mostly at the elementary age," she said. "(Young children) love to share."

Schools in Newton-Conover City Schools have also seen large numbers of absentees. On Jan. 31, 70 of 607 students were absent from Newton-Conover Middle School. Shuford, South Newton and Thornton elementary schools showed high absentee numbers for Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 ranging from 24 to 50 at the three schools. By Feb. 9, absences in NCCS were down to between 19 and 30 students not reporting in at the schools.

Stikeleather said Public Health will start offering flu shots at all Catawba County schools starting mid-week. Consent forms must be signed by a parent before a student can receive a flu shot at no charge.

If a parent has a question about a flu shot, contact your child's school nurse. If you think your children has flu-like symptoms, Stikleather advises parents to contact a doctor; keep the child hydrated and comfortable; and give appropriate doses of fever-reducing medication.