Corridor schools combat high rates of flu and other illnesses

    At St. Matthew Elementary, around 8% of students were out sick the week before spring break.

    A week before spring break, many Corridor classrooms are emptying out. But not because kids are on vacation.

    "How fast it kind of came up and has taken us by storm," St. Matthew Elementary principal Amy Conlon says of a recent outbreak of influenza.

    "I think we've had worse years than this but it seems to be hitting us later than usual," says Regis Middle School nurse Cassie Wessels.

    The mid-March outbreak of flu and other illnesses -- strep throat, bronchitis, walking pneumonia -- is keeping school nurses like Wessels up to their eyes in cough drops and Kleenex.

    "I think we've been within the seven to eight percent of the student population out ill," Wessels says.

    Most of St. Matthew’s absences, also close to 10% of students, are due to influenza A.

    "Sore throats with fevers but no other symptoms, or students who, their stomach, they're just not settled," Principal Conlon explains some of the symptoms parents have been reporting to the school.

    In turn, if the school’s absences affect 10% of their total enrollment, they’ll report that to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

    IDPH statistics show that in late February, only 12 Iowa schools reported those kinds of absences. The next week, that number had more than doubled to 25 schools, with 12 in the district covering Linn County alone.

    Principal Conlon says usually by this time of year kids are getting over the flu. She thinks an abundance of snow days may be to blame for the flu bug biting so late.

    "This truly is our first full week of school since the beginning of January,” she says. “With students now being back together for longer periods of time, it makes sense that they're going to start sharing those germs."

    In Benton Community Schools, an email was sent to parents letting them know flu and other illnesses were widespread in the middle and high schools; school nurse Jamie Bruns says they’re just starting to see that taper off.

    The Cedar Rapids Community School District reports so far, they’re not seeing widespread illness keeping kids home.

    The schools are doing their part to combat those germs: sanitizing surfaces that kids touch a lot and wiping down common areas. Germs are being shared even if your child seems well. IDPH says flu can be spread up to a day before the first symptoms show up and can be spread up to a full week after becoming sick. Wessels says parents have been sending their kids back to school too soon.

    "The fever will break and they'll feel better and then redevelop a day or two later," she says.

    Most schools have a policy that students should not return to school until their fever or other symptoms have been gone, without the aid of medicines, for a full 24 hours. Some schools are even recommending students take two full days off after a fever breaks.

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