Flu ramps up in the area
- Published: March 21, 2019
Those who think flu season is just about over are wrong, according to Ohio Department of Health Assistant Director of Communications J. C. Benton this week.
“We’re encouraging everyone over six months old to get a flu shot,” Benton said on Monday of this week. “And if you’re sick or not feeling well, don’t go to work or school. It’s nasty.”
Symptoms of the flu are fever, sore throat, congestion, coughing, body ache, headache, fatigue and chills, according to the ODH website.
Locally, Yellow Springs High School and McKinney Middle School were closed last Friday due to the high number of students out sick with the flu. However, this week schools are open again.
While it takes about two weeks for a flu shot to have an effect, flu season will likely last until May, so getting a shot now is still an appropriate preventative measure, Benton said.
Amy Schmitt, public health nurse of Greene County Public Health, seconded the recommendation.
“It’s not too late to get a shot,” Schmitt said on Tuesday, stating that public health experts are predicting flu season will last through April.
In Greene County, public health officials are seeing a second spike in flu-related hospitalizations, Schmitt said, noting that the most recent information is a week old.
Regarding Yellow Springs specifically, a statement released Tuesday of this week, from GCPH Community Epidemiologist Don Brannen, stated that the agency has seen a “slight increase in acute care interactions in Yellow Springs and Miami Township in persons with fever and influenza-like illness” in late February and March. The increase has been seen mainly in those under 18, Brannen wrote.
The agency is aware of one flu-related hospitalization in the Yellow Springs area, the statement said, compared to 10 hospitalizations during last year’s season.
Most years the peak of the flu season is in early January, but this year the flu in Ohio started out mild, then ramped up in mid-February and is still going strong, according to Benton. And in Greene County, the first uptick was seen in early February, followed by a decrease in flu activity, according to Schmitt. However, a second uptick has been seen in recent weeks.
Overall, there is no clear reason why the illness is spiking in February and March in 2019 rather than earlier.
“Flu is unpredictable,” Benton said. “There’s no reason why it’s this time rather than another.”
This winter’s flu outbreak in Ohio has not reached the level of last year, when the flu was especially virulent, Benton said. But the flu activity is still serious, and concerning. Through March 2, the last date when information is available, about 80 people in Greene County had been hospitalized with flu symptoms since October, compared with 83 from Clark County and 298 from Montgomery County, according to the ODH website. In the state overall since Oct. 1, more than 3,000 have been hospitalized for the flu. And so far, three children have died from the flu in 2019, compared to four deaths during a similar time last year.
Nationwide, in mid-February most states reported a moderate or high level of flu activity, according to the ODH website, which also reported a 17 percent rise in thermometer sales nationwide.
The ODH and Greene County health officials recommend that those who feel sick stay home, get plenty of rest and drink liquids. And people who had flu symptoms should stay home for 48 hours after the fever breaks, according to Schmitt of Greene County Public Health.
However, those with severe symptoms or underlying conditions should seek medical attention immediately, according to the ODH website.
In the Yellow Springs area, flu shots are available for current patients with appointments at Community Physicians, Yellow Springs Primary Care and Star Pediatrics in Xenia. Benzer Pharmacy (formerly Town Drug) no longer has the shots available, an employee said this week, but walk-in customers may get flu shots out of town at CVS Pharmacy, Walgreen’s and Kroger Marketplace on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road in Fairborn during regular pharmacy hours.
Most often, the shots are covered by insurance, a CVS employee said on Tuesday, although if not covered the cost is $26.22 for those under 65, $53.92 for those over.
Flu closes schools
On Friday, March 8, the Yellow Springs school district took the unusual step of closing Yellow Springs High School and McKinney Middle School for a “calamity day” due to the high number of students out sick with flu or strep throat.
More than 20 percent of the student body, or 70 students out of about 350 overall, were out sick on Thursday, according to a memo to parents sent by Yellow Springs Superintendent Mario Basora last week.
This week, the high school and middle school are open as usual, according to YSHS/McKinney Interim Principal Jack Hatert.
While absenteeism due to illness remains higher than usual this week, the numbers of sick students aren’t reaching the level of last week, Hatert said. Also, this week students are not coming to school and then leaving sick, he said, stating that on Thursday, March 7, 23 students left school during the day due to illness.
“We don’t see anything like that today,” Hatert said on Monday.
Ultimately, the decision to close the school was made by Superintendent Basora, Hatert said. Basora did not respond to an email seeking comment.
However, according to Hatert, it was also significant last week that the schools were closed on a Friday, giving students a three-day period to rest up, get better and stop the spread of germs. And the three days also gave the schools the opportunity to do a “deep cleaning,” he said.
“It allowed us to clean the building really well,” he said.
On Thursday night, the night custodian cleaned the surfaces of teachers’ stations, since the teachers did report to school on Friday. And on Friday, desktops, tables, chairs and bathroom surfaces, along with door handles and stair railings, were cleaned carefully, he said.
All school activities were also shut down over the weekend, with the intention of stopping the spread of the illness.
“You hate to see kids not feeling well, and also passing the germs along to the community,” Hatert said.
While Hatert said he did not have the exact numbers of students out sick on Monday, it appeared that the strategy had worked, in that the numbers of absentees has declined.
Mills Lawn School is also open this week, although absenteeism due to illness is about twice the normal rate, according to Principal Matt Housh on Monday. Housh estimated that about 10 percent of students were out sick this Monday, compared with a normal absentee rate of four to five percent.
The school did not close on Friday because it did not have as high a rate of absenteeism as the high school and middle school, he said, although more students than normal, about 13 percent, were out sick that day.
Both Housh and Hatert agreed that it’s hard on both teachers and students when so many are missing from school. Teachers have to decide whether to go ahead with their planned activities when a high percentage of students is missing, or wait until the ill students return.
And while students can do make-up work when they return, they cannot re-create the hands-on experience of project-based learning that takes place in class, Housh said.
“It’s tough for the students, because they miss the deeper understanding,” Housh said, although he emphasized that sick students should stay home.
Illness has also made an impact at the private Antioch School, according to School Manager Nathan Summers on Monday. About 10 percent of students, a higher number than usual, were out sick, he said, with some suffering from strep throat or cold symptoms.
“This year has been a bad year for illness in general,” he said.
The show will go on
Along with the closing of YSHS/McKinney School last week, the first weekend performances of the annual high school musical, “The Sound of Music” were also canceled.
Performances are expected to go on this weekend, beginning Thursday evening, March 14, and extending through Sunday, according to Director Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp on Monday. While 11 students in the play were still out sick on Monday, several were expected to return to school soon, and she and Hatert are watching the situation closely. According to Hatert, a final decision will be made on Wednesday, but the expectation is that the show will go on.
This is the only possible weekend to put on the play, because spring vacation starts the following weekend, according to Hatert.
Cast members were very disappointed to cancel last weekend’s performances, according to Sparrow-Knapp.
“The thing I’d like the community to know is the level of dedication these kids have to the theater program. They had to be stopped from coming to rehearsal,” she wrote in an email on Monday. “Whereas I teach we never miss our dates in theater, the truth is sometimes flu-ma-geddon happens.”
Extra performances have been added to this weekend’s schedule. The play will open Thursday at 7:30 p.m., then continue Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. It takes place at the Foundry Theater on the Antioch College campus.
“I certainly hope the community will come out to support them this weekend,” Sparrow-Knapp wrote. “It’s our hope that audiences will help us to packed houses starting on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.”
Tickets are available in advance online at showtix4u.com, and also at the door.