Panhandle schools seeing impacts as flu sickens students

Panhandle schools seeing impacts as flu sickens students
Northfield Elementary student Benson Wiedeman, left, visits school nurse Lois Cecava to check his temperature and throat. Cold and flu season have spread through Panhandle schools, causing some to close. WORLD-HERALD NEWS SERVICE

ALLIANCE, Neb. — Walking through the hallway, the sound of sniffling, sneezing and coughing echoes from classrooms as the cold and flu season continues.

While school staff are diligently disinfecting desks, door knobs and school supplies, students and faculty continue to get sick, causing some schools in the Panhandle to close.

Tuesday night, parents and guardians of students who attend St. Agnes Academy in Alliance received a message that the school would be closed Wednesday. Principal Rodney Wilhelm said he sent home two to three students with Influenza A on Monday and Tuesday.

“We wanted to be proactive to stop the spread,” he said. “It was primarily in grades K-2 and was starting to get the upper grades.”

Wilhelm discussed closing school with the school board, and they supported his decision. Following that conversation, he sent out a message through the school messenger around 8 p.m. Tuesday that the school was closed Wednesday.

With the guidance of two physicians, St. Agnes Academy opened Thursday and are communicating with parents about symptoms of cold and flu as well as the importance of keeping children home who exhibit signs of illness and seeing a doctor.

Box Butte General Hospital released information Thursday about a temporary visitor restriction.

“For the protection of our patients and staff and in an effort to control the spread of infection within our hospital, public visitation is restricted until further notice,” infection control nurse Mary Mockerman said. “Please do not make social visits to patients if you are feeling ill, have a cold, cough, fever, sore throat, body aches or diarrhea.”

The hospital also discourages all school-age children and youth from making social visits to the hospital. The restriction does not apply to people seeking medical attention.

Health officials are encouraging the public to wash their hands with soap and water and use hand sanitizer for the benefit of community wellness.

The annual flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent flu. While people experience several symptoms at the onset of the flu, several symptoms overlap with the onset of a cold. However, cold symptoms are usually milder and are associated with runny and stuffy noses.

Lynne Adams, Scottsbluff Public Schools health services coordinator, said they do not have exact numbers on the number of students with the flu, but school faculty are working together to reduce the spread of germs.

“We teach students good hand washing, to cover your sneeze, cough with your arm not your hand and wash after blowing your nose and coughing,” Adams said.

Other daily preventative actions the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that can reduce the likelihood of contracting the flu or cold virus is to drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of rest, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and limit contact with sick people.

In Gering, the elementary schools reported between 16 to 24 students and faculty have been out at some point in the last week due to the flu.

The CDC lists Nebraska among 24 states experiencing a high number of flu illnesses. This flu season, Nebraska has had seven flu-related deaths, including one child. Four of the six adults were over the age of 65.

With the peak of flu season typically in February, it’s not too late to get your flu shot.