Flu takes toll on schools

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR Staff
khelms@starhq.com

   The Carter County School System has it all: headaches, stomach aches, sneezing, coughing, sniffling, and other flu-like symptoms too disgusting to mention.
   Unfortunately, the bug that has bit the school system is taking its toll on students, according to Javy Taylor, attendance supervisor for Carter County Schools.
   "As a system, we normally have about 6 percent of our student population being absent from school each day. Most of our schools are above this average this week," Taylor said Wednesday.
   Cloudland Elementary, Cloudland High School, Little Milligan Elementary, and Unaka Elementary are experiencing the largest percentage of students missing school. "These schools are reporting anywhere from 25 percent to 38 percent of their students not present," Taylor said.
   "Hampton Elementary had an occurrence of sickness in early January. Today, they are at normal levels of attendance. Also, Happy Valley Middle School is being spared from the brunt of this illness at this time," he said. All of the other schools in the system are averaging 16 percent absenteeism.
   Carter County Schools has approximately 6,000 students. Of that number, about 950 students were out of school Tuesday due to sickness.
   "It's hitting around the county in hot spots," Taylor said.
   Little Milligan had 35 percent of its students out Tuesday; Cloudland High School, 38 percent; Cloudland Elementary, 27 percent; and Unaka Elementary, 25 percent. All others hovered around the 15 percent to 16 percent average for absenteeism.
   "We never like to see students miss any instruction time, because it's lost time they can't make up," Taylor said. This also makes it difficult for teachers, who already have begun reviewing for TCAP tests which will be administered in about two months, he said.
   Jeffrey Hopland, M.D., of Medical Care LLC in Elizabethton, said his office is seeing "tons" of cases of strep throat. "There's also a viral bronchitis which is going around, and then there is a stomach flu, which is the vomiting and diarrhea. The schools mostly have the strep and bronchitis," he said, while stomach flu symptoms are seen more often in adults.
   "Last week is kind of when it kicked off. But this week has just gone ballistic," Hopland said. "I think that in Hunter all of them are sick."
   Dr. Hopland said there's no way to predict how long this trend will continue. "Hopefully, we will have snow and get out of school for a few days and it will pass. Usually within a few weeks it will kind of run its course and everyone's already had it. When you start having half of the people in the school sick at a time, sooner or later you run out of kids to get sick."
   Carter County students already have used 10 of their 13 snow days, according to Taylor.
   The best medicine for guarding against contracting the bug, according to Dr. Hopland, is frequent hand-washing, constant use of an anti-microbial gel, especially after being around another person; proper diet, proper sleep, and Vitamin C. Taking more than the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C basically does no good, he said.
   Undiagnosed, strep throat can lead to rheumatic heart disease which can cause heart valve problems. "It also sometimes can cause kidney problems," Dr. Hopland said. "Realistically, it happens less now than it did 20 years ago, but it's still enough that you don't ever want to let it go. Strep is not one to wait out."