MARYVILLE, Mo. — Flu season starts annually in September, but February is the typical crescendo for the illness, and Nodaway County schools are seeing an uptick in cases.
Public Health Nurse Supervisor Tabitha Frank, with the Nodaway County Health Department said February is when the flu season hits hardest and the seven county school districts are seeing some cases, but it hasn’t been as bad as past years.
“When it’s here, it’s here,” she said. “There isn’t one area of the county that is seeing any more cases than another.”
Once a week, each school district reports what kinds of illnesses nurses and staff are seeing in the community.
“It’s just a way for us to kind of keep tabs on what’s going on in the county, because we are one of the largest landmass counties in Missouri,” Frank said.
Generally she said the illnesses are the same across the county: respiratory illness, influenza, gastro-intestinal and fever.
She said the overview sometimes allows for the health department to track certain illnesses, as they cross the county, from one school to another.
“You might have some that are a little ahead of the others, but the next week you’ll see that the rest of them will catch up,” Frank said.
That data provided by schools is submitted to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services where it is combined and reported back to county health departments statewide.
According to DHSS data, northwest Missouri region leads the state in laboratory-positive influenza cases with 15,893, almost half of the total statewide cases of 34,635, since the end of September.
“We are above where we were last year,” Frank said. She explained that cases so far this year are still lower than those reported during the 2017-2018 season, which topped 14,000 reported cases in Week 1 alone.
This year, a total of 6,995 influenza cases were reported during Week 5, Jan. 26 – Feb. 1. Influenza A accounts for 38.3 percent of cases, while influenza B makes up 60.6 percent and 1.1 percent were untyped.
A season-to-date total of 21 influenza-associated deaths have been reported in Missouri as of Week 5, according to the DHSS report.
Nodaway County schools
While no specific numbers were available, because Frank said they don’t tally them by school, she is seeing an uptick in cases reported from area school districts.
“It’s definitely increasing,” Frank said. “I expect that line will go up this week when they put in the data for Week 6. So we’ll see it start trending upward.”
Area school districts are focusing on proactive and preventive measures such as sanitizing common surfaces more frequently throughout the day and offering Clorox wipes in classrooms.
Maryville High School nurse Karie Ogle said staff at all district buildings are paying attention to illnesses and working to clean common surfaces like water fountains and door knobs more often.
“We still have a lot of the flu season left, February and March,” she said.
Though the district has begun to see a few more upper respiratory and influenza illnesses in the last couple weeks, Ogle said they still haven’t seen a lot of absences compared to previous years.
“It seems like we’re healthier right now,” she said. “It hasn’t been a huge number. … Since Christmas we’ve probably had about 20 (illnesses). It’s more influenza B, I mean we’ve had some A, but B is the one that we’re primarily seeing right now.”
She said they are trying to remind people to wash their hands more frequently, get regular sleep and drink more water. She also said staying home when sick will help everyone stay healthier.
“That policy of going 24 hours without a fever or fever-reducing medicine goes a long way in helping us to prevent the spread,” Ogle said. “(We’re) just encouraging those kiddos to take care of themselves in the busy season. It’s OK to stop and take care of themselves and get well before they come back.”
The district took the opportunity in October for an early preventive measure, holding a flu vaccine clinic for students, staff and family members.
Maryville isn’t the only school district thinking ahead. The North Nodaway R-VI school district also offered flu shots for its staff and students, with a permission slip. North Nodaway School Nurse Linda Russell said in an email that she believed the shots, provided by the Nodaway County Health Department, to be helpful.
“The parents who allow their children to get the flu vaccine here at the school seem to appreciate the convenience,” she said explaining that they’ve not seen the flu be as pervasive as in previous years. “We have been fortunate here in our district. We are taking extra precautions with hand washing and Lysol to help prevent illnesses.”
At South Nodaway, Tabitha Holtman, school nurse, said they’re also working to sanitize and keep Clorox wipes in each classroom.
“I encourage the teachers to wipe down desks and have students wash hands regularly when illnesses increase,” she said. “We are lucky that we have not seen much flu so far this year.”
Jeff Blackford, Nodaway-Holt superintendent, said his school hasn’t seen a flu outbreak yet, only confirming one case before and one after Christmas break.
“Staff regularly uses disinfectant wipes on door handles, water fountains, railings,” he wrote in an email to The Forum. “We daily monitor absences related to sickness.”
At Northeast Nodaway, Teresa Runde, RN and school nurse, said the R-V school district has only had one case of confirmed influenza this year and that staff members are taking usual flu season precautions.
The battle against illnesses is not only fought by schools, but also local businesses. Frank said they send out preventive measures and other health-related information to Hy-Vee, Walmart and even churches about best practices.
“The best protection is getting your flu shot,” Frank said. “It’s not too late to get a flu shot. It does take two weeks for it to reach its full effectiveness.”
Other prevention practices
- Wash hands often with soap and water.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home while sick and avoid close contact with others.
- Cover mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.