Flu activity becomes widespread, closing schools

Kentucky’s flu activity level has become widespread, which means at least half the regions of the state have reported confirmed cases of influenza.

Schools are a testimony to this increase in activity, as they have been swamped with absences related to illness, many reporting flu or flu-like symptoms. Several of them have closed their doors Friday hopes for recovery over the weekend.

One of the first big episodes came several weeks ago when Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School Band cancelled its appearance in the Lexington Christmas Parade because of widespread illness. They had just returned from marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Kathy Jaeger, president of the band boosters, told WKYT-TV that nearly 100 band members and two band directors were sick with strep throat and flu-like symptoms.

WKYT reported that up to 20 percent of students were out sick last week at some Central Kentucky schools. Paris Elementary reported 20 percent of its students out, most with flu-like symptoms.

Toliver Elementary in Danville cancelled classes for Friday, Dec. 12 because of the number of sick students and teachers, sending a note home to students that said: “The staff has worked overtime to keep the doors open, wiping noses, taking temperatures, and teaching. Worn down by the effort and in such close contact with students, significant numbers of staff are now ill as well. The number surmounts resources available.”

Harrison County Schools also cancelled classes Friday because of the rising number of reported student illnesses, Donald Richie reported for The Cynthiana Democrat.

Greg Hollon, Clark County director of pupil personnel student support services, told WKYT that parents should keep their kids at home if they are sick.

“If your child is exhibiting symptoms, they’re nauseous, they’re coughing, they have a high fever, any of those symptoms, symptoms that would warrant taking them to the doctor. We always would encourage parents to exercise good judgment,” he said.

The flu is highly contagious and because it is spread from person to person, it is easily spread in school environments. And this year a strain of the flu  (H1N1) that is especially hard on children and young adults is circulating, according to a state press release.

“In this flu season so far, H1N1 has continued to circulate and there have been reports nationally of severe illness in young and middle-aged adults,” Health Commissioner Stephanie Mayfield said. “We strongly recommend vaccination of children, teenager and young to middle-aged adults, even if they are healthy, to prevent the spread of and complications from the flu this year. All forms of flu vaccine available in Kentucky this year provide protection against the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus.”

The most common symptoms of the flu are high fever, chills and shakes, extreme tiredness, headache and body aches, sore throat, headaches, a dry hacking cough, and vomiting and belly pain.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the best way to prevent the flu is to get a vaccine, and it recommends a vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older.

People who are especially encouraged to receive the flu vaccine, because they may be at higher risk for complications or negative consequences, include:

 • Children age 6 months to 19 years;
 • Pregnant women;
 • Young and middle-aged adults for the 2013-2014 influenza season;
 • People 50 years old or older;
 • People of any age with chronic health problems;
 • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
 • Health care workers;
 • Caregivers of or people who live with a person at high risk for complications from the flu; and
 • Out-of-home caregivers of, or people who live with, children less than 6 months old.

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