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Flu, School Absences on Rise in Arkansas

February 4, 2005

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Arkansas parents are keeping more of their youngsters home from school as the cases of influenza and other seasonal ailments increase in number around the state.

``We have influenza-like illnesses all over the place,″ state Health Department spokeswoman Ann Wright said Thursday. ``We are hearing from schools and doctors’ offices and local health clinics that they are seeing much more flu-like illness. We know it is picking up.″

At Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, 60 cases of influenza have been confirmed by laboratory tests in recent days.

``Prior to that, in the last three weeks, we have fewer than 10 confirmations,″ said Craig Gilliam, director of infection control for the hospital. ``So, since Jan. 26, our numbers have gone up tremendously.″

More cases of strep throat are also being seen, Gilliam said. That fits in with the experience of Steve Straessle at Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys, where he is assistant principal.

``It’s not just one thing,″ Straessle said. ``It has run the gamut from strep throat to stomach virus to influenza. It started Monday, all of a sudden.″

He said 85 to 90 students have been absent each day this week, compared with an average of 30 or so.

State health officials said schools in Craighead, Lonoke and Union counties were reporting greater-than-usual absenteeism, with many students reporting flu systems. But the state officials said they knew of no schools that had been closed.

Gilliam, at ACH, said flu season typically stretches from November to March, and peaks in February.

Wright said the Health Department still has does of flu vaccine available for those who want to protect themselves from influenza.

Update hourly