School absentee rates in some northern Idaho schools are double and triple the normal rates for this time of year, which parents, particularly those of children with underlying health problems, need to note.
Most absences are attributed to H1N1 influenza. While most people who stay home and take care of themselves recover from the flu, anyone with health problems that weaken the immune system is at risk of complications if they catch the virus.
Children with symptoms--fever, sore throat, cough, sneezing, headaches, muscle aches, chills and heavy fatigue—should stay home from school until their fever is gone without the aid of fever-reducing medication. Parents should be aware of warning signs that indicate a child needs medical care immediately:
• Fast breathing or trouble breathing
• Bluish skin color
• Not drinking enough fluids
• Not waking up or interacting
• Excessive irritability
• Flu-like symptoms that improve then return with fever and a worse cough
• Fever with a rash
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports this week that hospitalization rates nationwide for influenza are higher than normal. Hospitalization rates for children ages 5-17 and adults ages 18-49 from April until now exceed the average flu season rates.
Idaho is one of 37 states reporting widespread influenza activity. Reports of flu activity in September and October are rare. Idaho has had four deaths related to H1N1 since September 1.
H1N1 is the only flu virus circulating in northern Idaho at this time. Anyone with symptoms should stay home; the virus is contagious and spreads easily.
The first shipment of vaccine to protect against H1N1 arrived in northern Idaho last week. On Oct. 19, PHD will begin vaccinating children in area schools. Only children with permission slips signed by their parents will be vaccinated. Vaccinations in the schools will continue through the first week in December.
Children are a vaccination priority because H1N1 has hit the under-25 age group in the greatest numbers. Starting Oct. 19, vaccinations in flu mist and shot form will be given in the schools. Schools will notify parents when it’s their school’s turn for vaccinations.
Taking simple precautions every day can help slow the spread of the flu. Those precautions include washing hands often and well, staying at least six feet away from anyone who’s sick, staying home when you’re sick and coughing and sneezing in your sleeve or a tissue.
Vaccinations for the general public will begin at the end of October as long as an adequate amount of vaccine is available. Public vaccination providers, dates and locations will be listed on the PHD website, www.phd1.idaho.gov.
This article has been posted in cooperation with the Panhandle Health District and the North Idaho Public Information Network.