While the flu is causing problems around the country, the number of students and teachers infected in Pinellas County has increased this year.
“This flu season seems to be coming on more suddenly with higher fevers. I think we are certainly seeing more absentee rates or more reports of kids having the flu than we did in the last two flu seasons,” Sara O’Toole, managing officer of Pinellas County School Health Services, said.
“All our principals received letters that can go home to parents and a little script they can put in their school newsletter for the families to alert them of signs for the flu.” O’Toole explained. She also encourages parents to keep their children home if they are sick.
The Florida Department of Health reports that influenza levels have sharply increased over the last several weeks.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outpatient visits to hospitals are up across the country, and there have been 53 pediatric related deaths during this flu season.
Late last month, Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater closed for a day after more than 100 students and five teachers fell ill.
O’Toole encourages families to get flu shots, even though the schools do not offer on-site vaccinations. “We refer them to the Health Department if families are interested.”
“We are communicating with the Department of Health,” O’Toole added. “We’re monitoring the absentee rates at our schools, the nursing staff does that on a regular basis anyway, but particularly during flu season they keep an eye on it.”
According to the Florida Department of Health, vaccinations are most important for children with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions.
The national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all individuals six months of age and older receive the flu vaccine each year.
Steps to avoid the flu include staying away from people who are sick, covering sneezes or coughs with a tissue or elbow, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and frequent hand washing.