The Sunnyside, Mabton and Grandview school districts are advising community members and students to take advantage of H1N1 vaccinations now available, according to the district nurses.
Debbie Kawakami, Skitch Stanton and Cindy Howe all say there was a surge in absenteeism due to the flu within their respective school districts this past October, but many staff and students who have had either H1N1 or seasonal flu have since returned to school.
"We are kind of in a slump...the kids are either getting over the flu or have had vaccinations," explained Stanton, who oversees the schools in Grandview.
Howe, the Mabton School District nurse, said flu-related absences are down considerably, but school nurses throughout ESD 105 recently attended a meeting in which the Yakima Health District advised the danger has not yet passed.
"The health department wants to run a vaccination clinic (in the Lower Valley) in January," said Kawakami, who works for the Sunnyside School District.
Yakima Health District officials, according to the three nurses, told those attending the meeting to expect a third wave of flu-related absences.
"They aren't sure if it will be H1N1 or the seasonal flu," said Stanton, sharing health officials advise precautionary measures be taken by both students and staff members.
"They recommend individuals get both the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines," she continued.
During the last wave of absences related to the flu, whether it was H1N1 or seasonal flu, all three school districts experienced rates of 14 to 21 percent of staff and students missing time from school.
"The restrictions on the H1N1 vaccine have been lifted and we recommend vaccines because we aren't out of the woods," said Howe. She added, "There should be no shortage of the vaccine through local physicians' offices and the health department, and we feel a large population can be protected if there is a proper response to obtaining the vaccine."
Stanton agreed, stating, "Unless parents plan to be out of work for two weeks to a month to care for their ill children and themselves, it really pays off to get vaccinated."
Kawakami, too, said the schools are taking precautionary measures to promote healthy habits.
"If a student has a fever, they are sent home. There is a district-wide approved disinfectant being utilized throughout the district at the end of the school day," she shared.
Kawakami also noted many physicians are not testing patients with flu-like symptoms for H1N1 specifically, but the schools are being proactive in educating students and staff as to the importance of coughing into their elbow and washing their hands.
"We adhere to the strict rule requiring staff to go home if they have a fever or flu-like symptoms," said Howe, stating adults have a tendency to believe they must be in the classroom for the students. However, she said, students are in need of protection from the flu just as much from staff as from other students.
The schools also use hand sanitizer in the classrooms, helping prevent the spread of germs.
"Bus drivers to the office of the superintendent all use sanitizer," said Howe.