ES school district closes doors to fend off the flu

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On Wednesday, the Eureka Springs School District announced it would close its doors Thursday and Friday and through the weekend to fight off the flu as nearly 30 percent of the student body was out sick.

"As of this morning we had 67 students out of 225 or so sick, plus 10 staff out," said Superintendent Curtis Turner on Tuesday afternoon. "Normally when you hit about 20 percent of students and staff sick, the best thing to do is close down and disinfect everything and give it a chance to work itself out."

This past weekend, the school disinfected the elementary building with antibacterial foggers, and the building was aired out on Sunday.

"Shutting down for just one day won't do any good," Turner said. "We are shutting down Thursday and Friday, so the break would go on through the weekend, and we'll come in and disinfect again."

Turner said while there was no set policy about percentages of illness that requires shutting down, 20 percent sick for the school overall was the number they watched for.

Flu cases up locally and abroad

A strain of the influenza virus, H3n2, is causing 98 percent of the flu viruses being reported throughout the state, according to a statement by the Arkansas Department of Health last week. The ADH has received numerous reports of infections, hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions.

According to Cindy Selover, Director of the Emergency Department at Mercy Hospital Berryville, the number of flu patients the past month or so has been well above normal. "On average we don't really get many flu patients if any," she said. "But the past month we've had up to 10 patients a day sick."

Selover described the problem as a "huge increase" that seems to include both two strains of the virus, Type A (H3n2) and Type B. The flu vaccination is only effective against the Type A virus, and Selover said it is possible to get the flu even with the flu shot, but that symptoms seem much milder for those who have taken the shot.

"It is best to see a doctor the sooner the better once the symptoms appear, especially fever," Selover added. "Fever, all over aches, cough, congestion, runny nose. We have had great success with the popular prescription flu treatment Tamiflu, but it only works if you get it in the first 48 hours of being sick, so don't wait."

Dr. Shannon Card of Mercy Clinic in Berryville said he has seen an influx of patients suffering from the influenza virus in the past few weeks.

"Last year was not as bad a season for the flu virus, but this year there are definitely more cases than normal," he said. "People should know that there are plenty of other colds out there and not everything is the flu. We have seen patients with the common cold, respiratory infections, and Norovirus, which is a stomach virus that causes vomiting, and diarrhea -- but we have seen more flu-related illnesses than usual."

People encouraged to get flu shots

"The truth is most people that get the flu aren't going to the doctor, they just stay home until they aren't ill anymore," said Ed Barham, ADH public information officer. "This means that we can never really know all the statistics."

"Almost everyone should get the vaccination -- pregnant mothers really should get it; some of the immunity is passed along to the infant," he said. "It is very serious for pregnant women; they could deliver a child during the flu season and if they didn't have the shot, their child is more susceptible to contracting the virus, which can cause serious effects and possibly death to the infant."

Although Health Department officials are encouraging people to get a flu shot, some in the medical field in Carroll County have said they don't think this year's flu vaccine is doing its job.

"I have heard that the shot wasn't helping people," said Jim Shell, pharmacist at Poyner Drug. "Some of the people that have got the shot are still getting the flu."

The 2012-2013 flu season is just now reaching its peak, and because there is a particularly aggressive strain of the flu, it could continue to infect people into early spring, officials said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that Arkansas is among a few states in the Southeast in which flu cases spread less rapidly in the prior week, but a state Health Department spokesman said it's too early to say cases have peaked here. At least nine people have died from the flu so far in Arkansas, including one child.

Tina Parker contributed to this report.

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