Looks like the flu season may have started a little earlier than normal here in Sunnyside as the local schools saw a dramatic drop in attendance last week.
That's according to school district community relations coordinator Curtis Campbell. "The number of absences we were seeing last week was higher than normal for this time of year," he said, noting that the flu season doesn't usually start until later in the winter.
Campbell said school district officials have developed a plan of attack ever since a swine flu outbreak in Pullman at WSU.
"We knew then it was only a matter of time before it made its way to our area," he said. But Campbell did say the flu cases in the Sunnyside School District aren't necessarily swine flu cases.
"At the beginning of the year, we began efforts to mitigate its spread. We started right when we came back to school."
Superintendent Rick Cole sent letters home to families in the district in both English and Spanish explaining that while the possibility of a swine flu outbreak is remote, it's still necessary to remain cautious.
Cole then detailed for families ways to minimize the spread of influenza. Suggestions include covering the nose and mouth with either a shirt sleeve or tissue, then throwing the tissue away.
He also encouraged frequent hand washing, especially after coughing and sneezing. He noted, too, that alcohol based hand sanitizers are effective as well.
Cole stated in the letter that if a student is sick, he or she needs to stay home to avoid the spread of infection, especially if the child has a fever of 100 degrees or more.
Both Cole and Campbell strongly encourage families to check to make sure parent contact information is up to date. That way, school nurses can notify parents their child is ill. Sick students will also be quarantined away from their peers until parents pick them up. "(The schools) have a way of keeping suspected (flu) cases away from healthy kids," said Campbell.
Campbell said school district staff is doing a good job imparting the suggestions to students.
He also noted that janitorial staff is nightly cleaning rooms with an anti-viral spray called Virex. "It sits there for a couple minutes and totally kills everything (germs)."
Campbell said those who do get sick should call their family physician immediately instead of waiting until symptoms become unbearable.
Last week, there was one day that 720 students were absent, he said.
This week, the number of absences has gone back down, he said. Maybe that's because he said the Sunnyside School District is following the Department of Health's recommendations "to a T."