Flu season relatively light in Eagle County schools | VailDaily.com

Flu season relatively light in Eagle County schools

Veronica Whitney

In Colorado, there were more confirmed cases of the illness the first week of February than during the previous weeks of flu season combined, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In Denver, school absenteeism climbed to 7.8 percent that week, compared with a preseason rate of about 3.2 percent. The 7.8 percent rate was higher than any other week during the 2001-02 flu season.

“We haven’t had a high percentage of absenteeism in the district as a whole because we have many schools,” said Pam Holmes Boyd, spokeswoman for the Eagle County School District. “Each school has been having different absenteeism rates.”

At Edwards Elementary School, for example, absenteeism hasn’t been higher than usual, said school Principal Cindy Secrist.

“We haven’t been too bad,” Secrist said. “About 1.5 percent of the school’s 400 students are sick now. And that rate is the same as the first semester.”

But at Gypsum Elementary School, those rates have been higher. In January student absenteeism rates hiked up to 25 percent – the normal rate is between 5 and 8 percent, said Principal Mike Gass.

“The worst part was in January when we had between 50 and 150 kids out at a time,” Gass said. “We have rebounded to normal now, right in time for CSAPs.”

At Red Sandstone Elementary, Debbie Herner, attendance secretary, said between 20 to 25 children have been absent in the past week.

“That’s more than the normal five to 10,” Herner said. “It’s pretty much cough and bronchitis, stomach flu and pneumonia. Some children have missed five days in a row.”

Although high in some areas, the overall numbers haven’t reached last year’s rates in the state. Physicians report about 2 percent of the cases they are seeing are truly the flu. Last year, when the flu season peaked in late January, about 4.5 percent of the cases were actually the flu.

This season’s peak, however, could still be one, two or three weeks away. “We haven’t seen a lot of flu for a great part of the season so far,” said Dr. Eric Olson of Colorado Mountain Medical. “Colorado was hit pretty hard last year. This year, we didn’t start to see cases until January. We certainly haven’t had the numbers of last year.”

Colorado ranks with Texas, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia as the only six states with “widespread” activity in tables collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though most people recover in one or two weeks, the flu can be deadly. About 36,000 people die from the virus each year, according to the CDC.

“We still have about six weeks to get through the flu season,” Olson said. “But it’s probably as bad as it will get.”

Patty Brown, school nurse for Avon Elementary and other schools in the east end of the valley, said she’s not seeing a high absentee rate.

“This is the time of the year we get more colds and some other stomach problems,” she said. “It’s winter and we have more colds. But we don’t have 35 percent of the population out.”

Is it the flu?

Flu symptoms include bad headaches, soaring fevers of more than 100 degrees, and bad cough.

“Flu symptoms are more than those of a cold,” said Dr. Eric Olson of Colorado Mountain Medical. “With the flu, you’re really sick.”

Although flu symptoms can last seven days, post-viral cough could last for a month, Olson said.

“The flu is self-limited, you catch it and the body will fight it off,” he said. “But you can be very miserable during that time. We have a lot of people with colds who come thinking antibiotics will help, but they aren’t better than taking Vitamin C.”

If the flu is caught early enough, there are medicines doctors can prescribe to cut the duration of the illness, Olson said. They can also give medicines to other family members of the sick person for prevention.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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