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Stamford elementary school uses new tech to battle flu season

January 11, 2019

STAMFORD — One of the most common refrains during cold and flu season is “something’s going around,” and a new program at one city school is aiming to help parents figure out what that “something” is.

A new initiative at Toquam Magnet Elementary School allows parents to anonymously share information about their child’s well being though a smartphone app, therefore giving parents, nurses and school officials a clearer image of what illnesses are circulating, and when to take greater precaution.

Corine Matarasso, administrative intern at Toquam, said the goal of the program for her is simple: “To reduce chronic absenteeism and increase the engagement of parents in their child’s education.”

Matarasso, who acts as the school’s coordinator for the program, said she hopes it will arm parents with more information and allow them to catch illnesses in their children before they spread, therefore cutting down on the amount of days students miss every year.

Parents at the school who take part in the program, called FLUency, are given a free Bluetooth-compatible thermometer, which sells for $20 in retail stores, to go with a smartphone app that can be downloaded for free.

When parents take their child’s temperature with the thermometer, the information is uploaded to the app, called Kinsa. If the temperature reading is high, the app allows the user to input other symptoms, and can provide guidance on possible sicknesses, as well as whether the child should be closely monitored or go to a doctor.

If Toquam parents want to go one step further, they can share that information in a closed group of other parents in the school. If enough participate, parents can see what illnesses are popping up more frequently.

So far, Toquam is the only school in Stamford and one of two in Connecticut to utilize the program. If successful, it will be spread out to other elementary schools in the city willing to participate next year.

About 160 FLUency thermometers have been distributed to Toquam parents, Matarasso said. The school has roughly 650 students.

Results so far are hard to gauge. Comments on the app, said Matarasso, are positive, but it’s hard to attribute any results to the program so far. If last week was any indication, however, it doesn’t seem to be hurting.

“In the past seven days we had no sick kids,” Matarasso said. “Really we are trying to use this app to keep kids in school.”

Jared Flamm, executive director of FLUency, said more and more schools are inquiring about the service, which is now in 48 states across the country. The program, he said, is meant to help parents detect a virus or illness early on, hopefully reducing the impact of the illness on the child as well as the likelihood the child will spread it at school.

“We know elementary schools are Petri dishes for germs,” he said.

Flamma added that the program is mostly focused on stopping one condition in particular.

“Flu is the largest illness we’re trying to tackle,” he said, pointing out that influenza is highly contagious and can lead to death.

The last flu season took a major toll on Connecticut residents as there were 154 flu-related deaths, making it the deadliest flu season in five years.

So far, six people in the state have died from the flu this season.

While the busiest part of the flu season hasn’t arrived yet, the number of positive flu tests jumped by more than 200 in the space of a week at the end of 2018, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Influenza A viruses are the predominate type of flu circulating, with very few B viruses. Among the A viruses, the most common is the H1N1 influenza, as opposed to the H3 influenza. That’s good news, said Dr. Michael Parry, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Stamford Health.

At least part of the reason the last flu season was so difficult was last year’s flu vaccine was, on average, only 36 percent effective at preventing flu infections.

“The bad news is there’s still flu, but the good news is the vaccine offers much better protection,” Parry said.

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