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Twinsburg schools see only slight change in attendance with flu outbreak

by Andrew Schunk | Editor Published: January 16, 2013 3:28 PM

Twinsburg -- There has been a recent spike in sick day absences from students at R.B. Chamberlin Middle School; however, Twinsburg School District officials do not believe the district-wide number of students off with the flu has experienced a drastic uptick.

According to assistant superintendent Mike Lenzo, R.B.C. saw the number of students off sick jump from 16 out of 672 students to 42 students reporting in sick the week of Jan. 14.

Dodge Intermediate School officials reported that "attendance was really bad in the two weeks before" Christmas break began, but has since leveled out to normal levels.

Bissell Elementary School "has not seen an increase" in absences due to the flu, Lenzo reported, and Twinsburg High School has also "not been affected by the flu epidemic," Lenzo said in a Jan. 15 email.

Wilcox Primary School also has not seen a fluctuation in its absences.

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Fortunately, Twinsburg appears to be bucking a county-wide trend.

"We have high influenza activity in the county," Margo Erme, medical director of the Summit County Health Department, said Jan. 14. "We started seeing influenza activity at the end of November and it's continuing to go up. We do not believe it's peaked yet."

Erme said measures of influenza infections garnered from hospital and emergency room admissions all show increases. Schools, which were out of session over the holidays, have only been back in session for a couple of weeks.

"It doesn't surprise me they're not seeing activity," she said. "That could change one or two weeks from now."

Erme said the current vaccine is designed to protect against three strains of flu -- including H3N2, which she said has been associated with severe symptoms -- and noted another strain may make its appearance before the season ends some time in May.

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"After a couple mild seasons, people are starting to realize influenza is a really nasty disease," she said. "It's quite possible we may see another peak in February or March."

Information on the flu and the availability of vaccine can be found at the Summit County Health Department website, www.scphoh.org.

The Ohio Department of Health reported Jan. 11 that one Ohio child died from "flu-related illness," and a handful of adult deaths have been linked to the flu, the AP reports. The Ohio Department of Health did not say where the child was from.

The department is not calling the flu outbreak "an epidemic," according to Tessie Pollock, a department spokesperson.

"It's an early start to the flu season," she said.

Flu viruses are "so unpredictable," you do not know what is going to happen, according to Pollock.

"We may have reached our peak," Pollock said. "Maybe next week we'll reach our peak or maybe we'll continue to climb."

The Department of Health usually does not see the flu season "peak" until February, Pollock said.

During last year's flu season there were no reported deaths among children, Pollock said. The year before there was one.

Ohio is among 47 states with widespread flu outbreaks, and health officials blame the flu for at least 20 child deaths nationally, the AP reported.

Flu-associated hospitalizations are running at much higher rates than the last two seasons. The state reports there have been 1,922 since October in Ohio, compared with 86 a year ago and 175 the previous season.

Some hospitals have begun limiting visitors and handing out surgical masks to try to slow the spread, and health officials are urging people to stay home if they are sick and to keep ill children out of day cares and schools.

Pollock noted that the state is coming off an unusually mild season a year ago, and two relatively light seasons after the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

"You can't make a statement about the severity of a flu season until it's over," she said.

The health department advises people to get flu shots if they haven't already and says there are sufficient supplies of the vaccine available around the state. While flu shots aren't a guarantee against catching the flu, Pollock said the vaccine seems to be a good match for current strains.

Editor's note: The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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