Flu takes toll on Walla Walla schools

Nearly a fifth of students at Edison Elementary School, for example, have been absent this week.

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Make no mistake, local health experts say -- the flu season has arrived here in full force.

School districts are feeling the impact and Walla Walla Public School District is among those.

This week the district has had a number of kids absent, with Edison Elementary School seeing the biggest spike, averaging an 18 percent absentee rate. On Tuesday, out of 458 students, 96 were gone from the building.

On the same day Walla Walla High School was missing 104 students out of 1,879.

"We're seeing some higher fevers," noted Jennifer Douglas, director of health services for the Walla Walla school district. "We are sending more kids home that we have in the past, we're more lenient about letting them go home."

She and school staff have done a great deal of work to prepare of this flu season, Douglas said. "We are really using precautions. I think that has really helped keep it at bay for awhile."

The district is presenting a clear and consistent message, "so people all hear the same thing."

Part of that is talking about symptoms of seasonal and swine flu to help parents know when not to send their children to school, she said.

However, that's a message that still needs beefing up, Douglas believes. "We're asking all the parents to keep kids at home until fever has subsided for 24 hours, not just take the medicine and send them to school," she said.

"People are listening, but there are some parents bringing their kids back to school too soon. That's what going to keep (the virus) moving around."

Parents need to plan for backup care, Douglas pointed out.

Those are points the district will always emphasize, "no matter what the infection is."

Her office has noted an uptick in teachers staying home when they should, she said. "We've really stressed taking personal responsibility."

According to the Walla Walla County Public Health Department, it's time to seek medical care in this flu season when a sick person:

Has chest pain or difficulty breathing.

Has purple- or blue-colored skin or lips.

Is vomiting and unable to keep liquids down.

Is showing signs of dehydration, such as dizziness when standing and no urination. In infants, a lack of tears is a sign.

Has seizures.

Is less responsive than normal or becomes confused.

In pregnant women, warning signs also include pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, severe or persistent vomiting, decreased or no movement of the baby and a high fever that does not respond to medication.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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