Flu hitting region’s schools hard

Maureen Mccarthy

Students are absent from schools in growing numbers as the flu bug and other contagious illnesses spread through the Brockton region.

Hanson’s two elementary schools, for example, had a student absentee rate of 20 to 25 percent this week due to flu-like illnesses and strep throat, officials say.

“This week, it is higher than usual. We are monitoring this on a day-to-day basis,” said Ruth Gilbert-Whitner, superintendent of the Whitman-Hanson School District.

Anywhere from 190 to 237 students — out of 950 students enrolled at the two schools — were out sick each day.

Schools throughout the region are seeing a similar pattern.

East Bridgewater Superintendent Susan Cote said the absentee rate is averaging about 20 percent — not unusual for the height of the seasonal flu in January or February, but above normal for this time of year.

Bridgewater Board of Health officials said 109 students were absent from the Williams Intermediate School and 90 students from the Bridgewater Middle School on Monday, and another handful of students from each school were sent home with flu-like symptoms.

Most schools, however, remain open. Statewide, only six schools in Massachusetts have closed because of the swine flu, and as many as 50 reported elevated absentee rates because of the flu.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Elementary School in Weymouth saw 40 percent of its students out sick earlier this week, but the school remained open.

About 10 percent of the students were absent at the six public schools in Hingham earlier this week, and absenteeism was reported higher than normal in Scituate. The cause most frequently cited was flu-life symptoms.

During a phone interview Friday, Gilbert-Whitner of Whitman-Hanson attributed the high absentee rate among students at the Maquan and Indian Head elementary schools in Hanson to “influenza-like illnesses and strep throat.”

She could not provide hard numbers of confirmed swine flu, or H1N1, cases at those schools or any of the seven schools throughout the district.

“We know that there have been some positive tests for H1N1, but do not have an official number for H1N1 influenza diagnoses that are backed by written medical reports,” Gilbert-Whitner said in an e-mail to the Enterprise on Wednesday. “However, we are treating all influenza-like illnesses with the same precautions whether there has been a definitive diagnosis or not.”

The Maquan Elementary School includes 489 students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. The Indian Head Elementary School has a student body of 460 in grades 3-5.

To try to contain influenza-like illnesses, Gilbert-Whitner said antibacterial dispensers have been installed in high traffic areas at all schools throughout the district.

“The custodial and maintenance staff have been diligent in ensuring the cleanliness of each of our seven schools,” she wrote. “Everyone is well-versed on the importance of thorough hand washing.”

Jean Cacciatore, lead nurse for the Whitman-Hanson School District, said the district-wide emphasis is on good hygiene and keeping children home if they are sick.

“Keep them home until they have been without a fever for 24 hours and hopefully, this will limit the spread of whatever is going around,” Cacciatore said during a phone interview Friday. “People are really doing their part.”

Should a student become ill while at school, Gilbert-Whitner said they will be sent home.

“Our biggest concern is that people remain calm and consult their family physician if they have concerns,” Gilbert-Whitner said.


Web: www.whrsd.org

Web: www.flu.gov

Telephone: 1-800-CDC-INFO

Flu hotline

Purpose: To help the public keep up to date on vaccine availability for the Brockton area, and to help answer flu-related questions, Signature Healthcare has set up a designated flu hotline.

Updates: Officials said it will be updated every weekday to reflect  current vaccine availability and allow callers to listen to information about the flu, or leave a message for a call back from its infection control department.

The hotline number: 508-941-7968.  

Web site: Patients and the public can also get daily updates by visiting  www.signature-healthcare.org, and click on the “Flu Update” section in the lower right hand corner of the home page.