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Panhandle schools seeing impacts as flu sickens students

January 18, 2019

ALLIANCE — Walking through the hallway, the sound of sniffling, sneezing and coughing echoes from classrooms as the cold and flu season continues.

While school staff are diligently disinfecting desks, door knobs and school supplies, students and faculty continue to get sick, causing some schools in the Panhandle to close.

Tuesday night, parents and guardians of students who attend St. Agnes Academy in Alliance received a message that the school would be closed Wednesday. Principal Rodney Wilhelm said he sent home two to three students with Influenza A on Monday and Tuesday.

“We wanted to be proactive to stop the spread,” he said. “It was primarily in grades K-2 and was starting to get the upper grades.”

Wilhelm discussed closing school with the school board and they supported his decision. Following that conversation, he sent out a message through the school messenger around 8 p.m. Tuesday that the school was closed Wednesday.

“We received a lot of parents and school board support for the decision,” he said.

With the guidance of two physicians, St. Agnes Academy opened Thursday and are communicating with parents about symptoms of cold and flu as well as the importance of keeping children home who exhibit signs of illness and seeing a doctor.

Box Butte General Hospital released information Thursday about a temporary visitor restriction.

“For the protection of our patients and staff and in an effort to control the spread of infection within our hospital, public visitation is restricted until further notice,”

Infection Control Nurse Mary Mockerman said. “Please do not make social visits to patients if you are feeling ill, have a cold, cough, fever, sore throat, body aches or diarrhea.”

The hospital also discourages all school-age children and youth from making social visits to the hospital. The restriction does not apply to people seeking medical attention.

Included in the release, the hospital encourages the public to wash their hands with soap and water and use hand sanitizer for the benefit of community wellness.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the flu is a “contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.”

The annual flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent flu. While people experience several symptoms at the onset of the flu, several symptoms overlap with the onset of a cold. However, cold symptoms are usually milder and are associated with runny and stuffy noses.

Scottsbluff and Gering Public Schools are also reporting students and faculty being out because of the flu.

Lynne Adams, Scottsbluff Public Schools health services coordinator, said they do not have exact numbers on the number of students with the flu, but school faculty are working together to reduce the spread of germs.

“The schools are kept really clean,” she said. “Faculty keep stuff wiped down, too.”

While Adams rotates around the district, she said the schools have health staff to assist teachers with questions about students who may exhibit signs of illness. The health staff and faculty also teach students good hygiene practices to reduce the spread of germs.

“We teach students good hand washing, to cover your sneeze, cough with your arm not your hand and wash after blowing your nose and coughing,” Adams said.

Last year, Adams also shared information about influenza in the February newsletter and will discuss the topic this year, too.

“We communicate tips through the newsletter,” she said. “If children have a fever, they need to stay home for 24 hours after they don’t have a fever without medication. Parents should also keep kids home if they feel like they are getting ill.”

Other daily preventative actions the CDC recommends that can reduce the likelihood of contracting the flu or cold virus is to drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of rest, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and limit contact with sick people.

In Gering, the elementary schools reported between 16 to 24 students and faculty have been out at some point in the last week due to the flu.

Lois Cecava, a Gering school nurse, said good hygiene is imperative to prevent the spread of germs.

“Hand washing is of utmost importance,” she said.

The CDC lists Nebraska among 24 states experiencing a high number of flu illnesses. This flu season, Nebraska has had seven flu-related deaths, including one child. Four of the six adults were over the age of 65.

With the peak of flu season typically in February, it’s not too late to get your flu shot.

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