Flu hasn't made it to Nordonia Hills schools yet, but virus has hit Summit County

by Eric Marotta | Editor Published:

Nordonia Hills -- While state officials are warning of outbreaks of the flu, the seasonal disease has yet to make its mark in the Nordonia Hills area, said Superintendent Joe Clark.

Clark said he hasn't heard of any flu problems in neighboring districts and added it doesn't appear to have made its appearance locally.

"Attendance is right at our normal rate," Clark said Jan. 11. "It doesn't appear to be there's a problem yet."

District nurse Chris Harvey said Jan. 14 that attendance levels have been normal since school started in September.

"Right now, we're educating staff, students and parents about proper handwashing, covering our sneezes and coughs in our elbows and staying hydrated," she said.

That may change in a couple of weeks, said Margo Erme, medical director of the Summit County Health Department.

"We have high influenza activity in the county," Erme said Jan. 14. "We started seeing influenza activity at the end of November and it's continuing to go up. We do not believe it's peaked yet."

Erme said measures of influenza infections garnered from hospital and emergency room admissions all show increases. Schools, which were out of session over the holidays, have only been back in session for a couple of weeks.

"It doesn't surprise me they're not seeing activity," she said. "That could change one or two weeks from now."

The Ohio Department of Health reported Jan. 11 that one Ohio child died from "flu-related illness," and a handful of adult deaths have been linked to the flu, the Associated Press reports. While the Ohio Department of Health did not say where the child was from, some parts of the state are seeing early outbreaks this year.

With Miami University's spring semester beginning next week, school officials are bracing for a spread of illnesses that have already hit many employees.

"Everybody's been sick. It's miserable," said Ritter Hoy, a Miami spokeswoman.

She said the flu and bronchitis have been sweeping through staff, including a long-time school official who was out sick a full week after going years without taking a sick day.

The Ohio Department of Health is not calling the flu outbreak "an epidemic," according to Tessie Pollock, a department spokesperson.

"It's an early start to the flu season," she said, adding flu viruses are "so unpredictable," you do not know what is going to happen.

"We may have reached our peak," Pollock said. "Maybe next week we'll reach our peak or maybe we'll continue to climb."

The department of health usually does not see the flu season "peak" until February, Pollock said.

However, flu-associated hospitalizations are running at much higher rates than the last two seasons. The state reports there have been 1,922 since October in Ohio, compared with 86 a year ago and 175 the previous season.

Pollock noted that the state is coming off an unusually mild season a year ago, and two relatively light seasons after the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

"You can't make a statement about the severity of a flu season until it's over," Pollock said.

Ohio is among 47 states with widespread flu outbreaks, and health officials blame the flu for at least 20 child deaths nationally, the AP reported.

Some hospitals have begun limiting visitors and handing out surgical masks to try to slow the spread, and health officials are urging people to stay home if they are sick and to keep ill children out of day cares and schools.

The state health department advises people to get flu shots if they haven't already and says there are sufficient supplies of the vaccine available around the state. While flu shots aren't a guarantee against catching the flu, Pollock said the vaccine seems to be a good match for current strains.

Erme said the current vaccine is designed to protect against three strains of flu -- including H3N2, which she said has been associated with severe symptoms -- and noted another strain may make its appearance before the season ends some time in May.

"After a couple mild seasons, people are starting to realize influenza is a really nasty disease," she said. "It's quite possible we may see another peak in February or March."

Erme suggests regular hand washing with either soap and water, or using hand sanitizers.

"And stay home if you are sick," said Pollock. "It's something that's more easily said than done, but it really does help curb the spread of illness."

Editor's Note: The Associated Press contributed to this article. Information on the flu and the availability of vaccines can be found at the Summit County Health Department website, www.scphoh.org.

E-mail: emarotta@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9433

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