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Flu epidemic leads to local school closures

Flu epidemic leads to local school closures
According to the latest FluView report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza activity remains high and widespread across the nation.
The high incidence of illness in Obion County has caused county school officials to close schools. Parents were notified Wednesday that Obion County schools would be closed today and Friday. Students will return to classes on Monday.
An official at the Obion County Board of Education office said 541 of the 3,756 students were absent system-wide on Wednesday. Lake Road Elementary took the biggest hit with 158 sick.
This marks the second time the Obion County School System has closed this flu season due to illness. The first was Dec. 10-11, 2012.
Union City Director of Schools Gary Houston said of its some 1,400 students, only 128 were absent Wednesday. Of those, 81 were at the elementary school, 36 at the middle school and 11 at the high school.
“At present, there will be school the rest of the week,” he said.
Tennessee is included in the 30 states reporting high influenza-like illness (ILI) activity this month. Additionally, 10 states are reporting moderate levels of ILI activity. Other states reporting high ILI activity for the week of Jan. 6-12 included Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming.
The CDC reported that while activity indicators that rose early — like influenza-like-illness and the percent of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza — are beginning to show declines, indicators that reflect severity are now rising.
“Reports of influenza-like-illness are nearing what have been peak levels during moderately severe seasons,” according to Dr. Joe Bresee. CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination and antiviral treatment when appropriate at this time.
“While we can’t say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations,” said Bresee, who is chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in CDC’s Influenza Division.
“Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now,” Bresee said. “And it’s important to remember that people who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms, regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated. Also, you don’t need to wait for a positive laboratory test to start taking antivirals.”
One factor that may indicate increased severity this season is that the predominant circulating type of influenza virus is influenza A (H3N2) viruses, which account for about 76 percent of the viruses reported. Bresee explained “typically ‘H3N2 seasons’ have been more severe, with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, but we will have to see how the season plays out.”
So far this season, most (91 percent) of the influenza viruses that have been analyzed at CDC are like the viruses included in the 2012-13 influenza vaccine. The match between the vaccine virus and circulating viruses is one factor that impacts how well the vaccine works. But Bresee cautioned that other factors are involved.
“While influenza vaccination offers the best protection we have against influenza, it’s still possible that some people may become ill despite being vaccinated. Health care providers and the public should remember that influenza antiviral medications are a second line of defense against influenza,” said Bresee.
CDC has recommendations on the use of antiviral medications (sold commercially as Tamiflu® and Relenza®) to treat influenza illness. Antiviral treatment, started as early as possible after becoming ill, is recommended for any patients with confirmed or suspected influenza who are hospitalized, seriously ill or ill and at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, including young children, people 65 and older, people with certain underlying medical conditions and pregnant women. Treatment should begin as soon as influenza is suspected, regardless of vaccination status or rapid test results and should not be delayed for confirmatory testing.
In addition to getting the flu shot, there are everyday preventive actions which can be taken to help prevent the spread of the illness.
They include:
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
• While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
Published in The Messenger 1.24.13

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