Flu season’s start hits local schools

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Hamilton school closed for illness. Staff video by Vivienne Machi.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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The latest information about the flu and tips for staying healthy

School officials are already seeing attendance numbers drop as respiratory flu season comes into full swing, and one school has closed already due to increased illnesses.

St. Peter in Chains School, 451 Ridgelawn Ave. in Hamilton, canceled Wednesday’s classes after about 20 percent of its student population was out sick the day before due to an outbreak of nausea, fever, and vomiting, according to Kay Farrar, director for the Hamilton Department of Health.

“We are trying to get this contained very early,” she said, adding that the health department will assist in determining which cleaning solvents are most effective in sanitizing the building.

While early reports mentioned the flu as the culprit, Farrar said that there was not enough information yet to target the cause of the outbreak.

“People use the term ‘the flu’ very loosely,” she said, and noted that the respiratory flu that people get shots for every year is completely different from the outbreak at St. Peter’s.

Michelle Luebbe, a Hamilton resident with two children who attend St. Peter’s, said she and her husband, Steve, thought closing the school was a good idea.

“The kids take a break, and they’re sanitizing everything today, so hopefully we’ll break that vicious cycle,” she said.

Flu numbers on the rise

Local health officials are seeing a rise in patients admitted to the hospital with respiratory flu.

Butler County Department of Health has recorded 13 hospitalizations as of Wednesday morning, up from seven recorded last Friday , according to Jenny Bailer, director of nursing. The county department of health receives data of residents of Butler County excluding the city of Hamilton, which has its own health department.

“While we are not required to track individual cases, we do track trends, and we have seen an upward trend in emergency room visits and hospitalizations for flu-like symptoms over the last week,” she said.

To prevent yourself from catching the flu, Bailer says to wash your hands, keep your distance from people who are sick, and cover coughs and sneezes so you don’t spread any germs to others.

“You should also get your flu shot,” she added. “Even though a part of the flu shot will not be effective as hoped, it’s not too late to get the shot and get at least some coverage.”

Federal health officials are warning that the current flu vaccine offers only limited protection against the strain of influenza that has caused most flu cases and related hospitalizations in Ohio this season.

Respiratory flu symptoms include a cough, a fever, and aches and pains. But Bailer said this time of year is also the beginning of norovirus season — lasting about 48 hours and characterized by vomiting and diarrhea — “what people typically call the stomach flu,” she said.

“(Norovirus) is very debilitating,” she said. “We are notified if there is an outbreak at an institution.”

Farrar said it was too soon to determine the cause of the illness outbreak at St Peter’s. Hamilton had one person hospitalized this week after testing positive for the respiratory flu, and one hospitalized last week for the same reason.

Tracy Heinecke, head nurse for the Hamilton City School District, said that while Hamilton’s absentee rates have not risen enough to be alarming quite yet, they are keeping an eye on students out sick.

“Right now, we have anywhere from 7 to 9 percent of students out at each of our buildings,” she said. “I believe that once we reach about 15 to 20 percent absenteeism, that’s when we start to address the issue.”

The district has seen an increase in fever, vomiting, sore throats and cough, Heinecke said.

Several other Butler County schools reported average absences on Tuesday, according to officials.

Of the 6,347 students enrolled in Middletown City Schools District, 545 called in sick on Tuesday, officials said.

At Bishop Fenwick High School, 13 of the 542 students were sick on Tuesday but that number jumped to 25 on Wednesday, school officials said. John XXIII reported 12 of its 375 students were sick on Tuesday.

In Madison, 43 of the 847 students in the elementary schools were sick on Tuesday, and 34 of the 801 students in the junior/senior high school were sick, said AJ Huff, a district spokeswoman.

The number of students absent from Edgewood on Tuesday were almost identical to one year ago, said Randy Stiver, district treasurer. Of the 3,750 students in the district, 127 were absent Tuesday, one more than the same day in 2013, he said.

Cincinnati Christian Schools in Fairfield had not seen any excessive absences for this time of year, said spokesman Mark Phair. Sacred Heart school, also in Fairfield was also seeing average absences of approximately 24 out of 228 students, said Principal Joe Nagle.

One classroom at Mason’s Early Childhood Center had half of its students absent this week, and six of those cases were Type A flu, said Tracey Carson, public information officer for Mason City Schools. But the district has not seen high enough numbers of absenteeism to think about school closures.

“It’s on par with the beginning of flu season,” Carson said.

Area hospitals restricting visitors

Local hospitals have initiated visitor restrictions to try and curb the potential for spreading the flu.

Dayton Children’s Hospital said today that it has implemented restrictions on visitors because of spike in positive flu cases.

Patients’ families and friends who are coughing, sneezing or showing other signs of cold or flu infections have been prohibited from visiting. In addition, all adults visiting the NICU will be screened for signs of cold and flu and may not visit if showing any symptoms, and children younger than 12 years of age will not be able to visit the NICU.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has instated similar restrictions, said Jim Feuer, senior media relations associate.

Sharon Anderson, supervisor at Fort Hamilton Hospital, said no specific visitor restrictions have been implemented yet.

“We do the same thing that we do typically year-round, we have masks and hand wash, year round, for anybody who’s feeling bad.

Mercy Health is limiting visitation in the special care nursery, said public relations director Nanette Bentley.

“No visitors under 14 are allowed in the special care nursery, and we are asking visitors who have signs or symptoms of the flu to refrain from visiting or limit their visit,” she said.

Staff writers Eric Schwartzberg, Eric Robinette and Rick McCrabb contributed to this report.

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