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At least four local schools close due to flu-like illnesses

January 30, 2019
The American Heritage Charter School’s board of trustees announced Sunday that the school in Idaho Falls would be closed this week due to about 30 percent of its students and one-third of its staff showing flu-like symptoms.

At least four East Idaho schools have recently shut down due to a high number of flu-like illnesses.

The American Heritage Charter School in Idaho Falls opted to cancel classes this week because 30 percent of its students and one-third of its staff were sick, according to a Post Register article.

“It’s a big step that we’ve never had to take,” Board Executive Director Jim Dalton told the Post Register. “We’ve never had to do it.”

Adams Elementary School in Rexburg also decided to close on Tuesday and Wednesday after 61 of the school’s 288 students called in sick, according to a Standard Journal article.

“One hundred percent of those people who were absent were sick with flu and with fevers. We just decided it wasn’t a smart idea to keep open,” Principal Mark Bates told the Standard Journal. “We’re having our custodial staff come through and disinfect with hospital grade disinfectant. We, hopefully, can break the cycle of this sickness.”

On Tuesday, officials announced that they were closing Tetonia Elementary School in Tetonia Wednesday through Friday. They said between 20 and 25 students were absent due to illnesses this week.

Hope Lutheran School in Idaho Falls has also closed for the rest of the week due to illness, according to media reports.

Earlier this month, schools in Twin Falls and Notus, a city in Canyon County, shut down for the same reason.

Mike Taylor, surveillance epidemiologist with Eastern Idaho Public Health, said they have been consulting with local schools about illnesses in recent weeks.

Taylor said they typically let schools decide if they want to close, but shutting down can be a good idea.

Keeping people apart for an incubation period or two — the timeframe between exposure and the development of symptoms — can limit the spread of the contagious viral infection and help break the cycle, Taylor said.

Flu is particularly hard to stop since people can pass it on before they know they’re sick.

“That’s the bad thing about influenza. You become contagious before symptoms (develop),” Taylor said.

Although a lot of flu activity is occurring in the area, Taylor said that’s not unusual for this time of year. Flu season tends to peak around December or January.

Tracy McCulloch, community health director for Southeastern Idaho Public Health, agrees.

“Statewide influenza activity is increasing. We know it’s here,” she said. “But so far, it isn’t worse than it was last year.”

McCulloch said Tuesday afternoon that she wasn’t aware of any illness-related school closures in the Southeastern Idaho Public Health district, which covers Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Butte, Caribou, Franklin, Oneida and Power counties.

Still, health officials are urging people to do what they can to prevent the flu from spreading by washing their hands frequently, covering their coughs, staying home when they’re sick, and getting a flu vaccination.

Taylor also encourages people to go to the doctor if they develop a fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat or other flu-like symptoms during this time of year. They may be able to get a prescription that can ease symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu if doctors catch it early enough, he said.

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