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'Unusually long flu season' caused spike in student absences

Zoe Greszler • Jul 15, 2018 at 12:00 PM

An unusually rough flu season may be to blame for a spike in school absences during the 2017-18 school year. 

“We had an unusually long flu season that started early and ended late,” Huron County Public Health (HCPH) epidemiologist Sydney Cmar said.

“January and February were the hardest months and had the highest reported symptoms. ... The average absentee rate for Huron County 2017-2018 was slightly elevated in January and February. This is most likely attributed to the high activity flu season.”

Those two months saw an average of between 3.65 and 3.77 percent of students missing from Huron County schools. Some weeks during the period saw the absentee rate more than double the four-year average. The week with the highest reported absences was the first week of February, when about 6.5 percent of students were unable to make it to class.

According to the HCPH’s report, fever was the most reported symptom among students missing or being sent home from class, with 2,255 cases reported, with vomiting and stomach pain following at 1,386 and 1,164 respectively. 

“With a fever we recommend they don’t go to school,” Cmar said. “And with vomiting, we don’t really want vomiting in schools either.”

The epidemiologist said just as the health department thought the disease’s threat was past, a second wave came through the community.

“We were mainly seeing Type A and then that started to die down and we thought, ‘Oh that’s the end of the flu season,’” she said. “Then that’s when Type B emerged and it kind of started all over again. We never went over the (hospitals’) threshold and none of the schools went over (that) threshold this year, so I can say that’s good.” 

This was the first year Cmar was able to get a complete report, since previous years only saw a limited number of schools were reporting their absentee data. 

“By the end of the 2017-2018 school year, all seven school districts in the county have at least one school reporting into the system,” Cmar said, noting it was an accomplishment toward which she has been working.

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