Officials hoping flu outbreak has passed

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Gripped by a flu outbreak with assessment tests scheduled this week, local school officials are crossing their fingers and hoping the worst of the outbreak has passed.

“It’s been pretty bad, we’ve had a lot of students and faculty out with it,” said Randy Fowler, Portales Schools superintendent. “I’ve just recovered from a bout of it myself.”

According to a report Gayle Richerson, director of patient care at Roosevelt General Hospital gave to the hospital board last week, the outbreak has occurred with severity because flu shots given this year did not stop the strain going around.

She said that activity at the hospital had been up because of the outbreak but the cases had been manageble. She said the worst part was 15 staff members had contracted the flu. She said they had all had the flu shots and tests had been run confirming that they actually had influenza.

Fowler said the effects of the flu started showing up in the schools’ attendance records about three weeks ago with the worst seige about a week ago. He said that at its worst the virus dropped attendance by slightly less than 15 percent he figures.

“I feel like we’re probably coming to the end of it now,” Fowler said.

He said one school reported 10 percent absent on Monday but others were better. He said that was good news since the assessment tests from which the Adequate Yearly Progress report card is generated from are being given this week.

Fowler said the testing is early, so plenty of time to do makeups is available. Still he hopes attendance improves this week.

“It started here about three weeks ago and we’re seeing the tail end of it,” said Kristine Kuhlmann, a family nurse practioner and director of Health Services at Eastern New Mexico University.

Kuhlmann said at the height of the outbreak her office was seeing 15-20 people a day with the flu. She estimated that 10-15 percent of the student body had contracted it.

Kuhlmann said they normally recommend that students stay out of class three to four days to lessen the spread of the disease and assure that the patient is recovered. She said notice had been given to faculty that the outbreak was under way and to expect attrition.

Fowler said administrators had kept a close eye on the outbreak but were never convinced that closing school would be a good idea. He said classrooms had been using hand sanitizer, tissues and other methods of trying to control the spread of the disease.

“We just tried to weather the storm and hopefully our kids are getting the medical attention they need,” Fowler said.

Cold or Flu?
Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Rare High, lasts 3-4 days
Headache Rare Prominent
General aches Slight Usual, often severe
Fatique, Weakness Mild Can last 2-3 weeks
Extreme Exhaustion Never Early and prominent
Stuffy Nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore Throat Common Sometimes
Chest discomfort, cough Mild to moderate Common, possibly severe

Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases