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Flu numbers continue to climb

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@chronicle-tribune.com

Even though March is just about halfway over, flu season is still hitting the county, keeping a number of students home from school.

Angie Kitashoji, infection control coordinator at Marion General Hospital (MGH), said they’ve had 530 cases tested at the lab, ER and MGH Express. There have been 38 hospitalizations for flu this season, with 12 taking place in March, which has been higher than recent months.

Though it’s been a light flu season in comparison with last year, which included 203 hospitalizations and 1,076 flu cases, she said they thought the season was winding down until the numbers continued to climb this month.

As for what it looks like in other regions, Kitashoji said it’s been a statewide trend.

Indiana schools are required to report to the state if more than 20 percent of students are absent, and so far only Eastbrook South Elementary has hit above the 20 percent mark, causing the school to shut down for the day on Tuesday. But other schools in the county haven’t been too far away.

Superintendent of Madison-Grant Community Schools, Scott Deetz, said they have seen an increase in students missing school due to illness, primarily the flu, in the past two and a half weeks. He said they’ve had anywhere from 10-17 percent of students absent at their buildings, but they have been improving since the beginning of the week.

Though absentee numbers haven’t been high enough to close any of the M-G schools, Deetz said he and the head of maintenance receive a daily update on numbers. He said the head of maintenance also has a plan with each custodial department on how the school is disinfected on a daily basis in high traffic areas.

“We know school corporations aren’t able to prevent the flu, so our goal is to disrupt the spread of the flu as much as possible,” he said.

Mississinewa Community Schools District Nurse Christa Yeakle said they have stepped up cleaning at their schools as well.

She said they make sure to disinfect areas like light switches, door knobs and buses.

Overall, Yeakle said they have seen some of the flu at Mississinewa but haven’t seen high numbers so far. She added that there is usually an influx of flu cases in January and February, but this year, it’s hit March more than usual.

Yeakle said when she visited a CVS pharmacy, she was told that the flu vaccine was less than 50 percent effective this year which could also contribute to the rising numbers.

Kitashoji said at this point, it’s too early to tell if the vaccines have been effective or if lack of vaccinations has contributed to the spread of illness.

She said among the people who have been hospitalized, the majority of them have not been vaccinated.

Brenda Finicle, district nurse for the Oak Hill United School Corporation, said they’ve had a fair number of illnesses but it hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary.

“We’ve had some reported diagnosed Influenza A and some stomach viral symptoms, nausea vomiting and diarrhea, but no more than normal this time of year,” she said. “We’ve not hit the 20 percent at any certain building as of yet which is a good thing.”

Marion Community Schools hasn’t been hit too hard so far either, according to district nurse Sue Nicholson. She said she spoke with some of the MCS school nurses and she was told that there has been a slight increase in students either being sent home or calling in ill, but they haven’t seen a huge increase in numbers.

Even still, she said the custodians go above and beyond this time of year, to try to keep the classrooms clean. She said as the community shares and spreads germs, what’s taking place in other schools could still make its way to Marion, but she’s hopeful the numbers will stay down.

Yeakle and Finicle both said they encourage parents and guardians to keep students home for the appropriate amount of time so they don’t continue the spread at school, as well as to remember to cover mouths when coughing and to make sure they’re washing their hands.