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Schools see yearly flu incidence increase

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Nisswa Elementary School reported its flu incidence to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) after more than 10 percent of its students were absent due to illness Monday, Jan. 20. Since then, when 35 students were absent, the number of sick children has dropped.

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The MDH asks that schools report influenza-like illness (ILI) when the number of students who are absent or sent home reaches 5 percent or when three or more students with the symptoms in the same classroom are absent or sent home for the day.

ILI symptoms include a fever equal to or more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a sore throat and a cough.

So far, 32 school outbreaks have been reported across the state this year. Last year, nearly 125 outbreaks had been reported.

Nisswa School is the only local school that’s had to report to MDH, as other schools have seen normal, not extreme, seasonal increases in flu absences.

Pequot Lakes Schools saw a normal uptick in absences, said superintendent Chris Lindholm, but he could not say for certain that all those absences were due to the flu.

At Pine River-Backus Schools, nurse Renata Remington said she’s seen a normal rise in flu instances, but not enough to report to the MDH. The flu season’s not over yet, though, she said.

“I know it’s coming, but it’s not a huge thing right now,” Remington said. She sent home screening tools for parents.

She said last year was much worse and that year the flu season started much earlier — in November.

So far this season the sick list is short. Some days see larger number of absences, but Remington doesn’t call homes to ask why students are home from school due to privacy reasons. Some students are kept home on cold days.

Crosslake Community School has had the flu going around, said Annie Woog, school secretary. The school’s experiencing influenza with a high fever that’s difficult to keep down.

Woog noted that MDH recommends only sending children back to school after they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication.

MDH also recommends that anyone 6 months of age or older get a flu vaccine. Children should stay home if they are ill, rest and drink lots of fluids.

Additionally, MDH recommends covering nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough or sneeze into your sleeve. Clean hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer. Don’t expose infants unnecessarily to large crowds when influenza is in the community.

MDH reported that flu across the state was categorized as “widespread,” its highest level of outbreak. In all, 125 people in Minnesota were hospitalized due to the flu as of Jan. 18. There have been no pediatric deaths due to influenza this year.

While 125 hospitalized cases is enough to classify the flu as “widespread,” that number is small compared to last year at this same time, when 321 people were hospitalized for flu-related illness.

Kate Perkins can be reached at kate.perkins@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/EchoJournalKate.

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