Flu hits East Texas, disrupts school for some

NEW SUMMERFIELD – What a difference a day – or, in this case, two – makes when it comes to creating a healthier environment.

“On Wednesday of last week, we had 141 absent and as of this morning, we are back down to 61,” said New Summerfield ISD Superintendent Brian Nichols on Monday, describing the impact of shuttering schools and disinfect buildings while students stayed at home. “Hopefully, (the flu) has run its course.”

Across the nation, areas have been hit hard by the virus, with Texas ranking fourth among the Top 10 states with flu activity, according to The Walgreens Flu Index for the week ending Jan. 26.

However, during that same time period, the company's designated market areas of Tyler-Longview-Lufkin-Nacogdoches ranked second in top areas with flu activity, and first in DMAs with flu activity gains, according to a release on www.walgreens.com.

The index provides a weekly report of state and market-specific information regarding flu activity, and for five years has ranked them by the highest incidences of the virus across the country. It is compiled by using the drugstore chain's weekly retail prescription data for antiviral medications used to treat influenza across Walgreens and Duane Reade locations nationwide, the site states.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that from Oct. 1 to Jan. 26, 10.1 million to 11.7 million people reported having flu illnesses, with 4.7 million to 5.6 million seeking medical care and 118,000 to 141,000 hospitalized for flu complications (Source – 2018-2019 US Flu Season: Preliminary Burden Estimates).

The CDC is predicting flu activity to continue for weeks, as peak seasons are from November through March.

“It’s not possible to say definitively at this time how severe the 2018-2019 season will be since there are still weeks of flu activity to come, but at this time, severity indicators are lower than they were during a similar time-frame last season,” the site stated.

Six Texas school districts, including New Summerfield, closed campuses due to high cases of flu and flu-like illnesses during the past couple of weeks.

Nichols said that when almost 25 percent of the 540 student body were marked absent or were “having to go home and were showing symptoms,” the decision to call off school for two days came immediately.

“We are a one-campus district, though our programs are in different buildings. But we were seeing (absences and illnesses) across the board, not in just one building,” he recalled. “As a precaution to the kids' and the staff's health, we decided to close school Thursday and Friday to allow everyone to get healthy while allowing us an opportunity to do a deep cleaning and to disinfect.”

Thanks to the state's new method of setting the number of school days in a year – based on minutes, rather than days – “we actually have some (minutes) built in the calendar, and we have enough to cover one of the days,” Nichols said. “We'll probably have to look at our early dismissal days to recoup time from the other lost day.”

Parents are encouraged to keep their children home if they are running a fever, as the district requires an ill student to be fever-free for a 24-hour period before returning back to campus, Nichols added.

Meanwhile, the CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for every ages six months and older; it also notes that preventative actions – such as staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs – are another way to safeguard against illness.

“If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading flu to others. In addition, there are prescription medications called antiviral drugs that can be used to treat influenza illness,” the site states.

While the virus can cause mild to severe illness, a rapid influenza diagnostic test can help to rule out the flu. These work by detecting the parts of the virus (antigens) that stimulate an immune response, and results are available within approximately 10-15 minutes, according to the CDC.

Rapid molecular assays are tests which detect genetic material of the virus, and take 15 to 20 minutes to produce results, but are more accurate than the RIDTs, the site notes.

“There are several more-accurate and sensitive flu tests available that must be performed in specialized laboratories, such as those found in hospitals or state public health laboratories. All of these tests require that a health care provider swipe the inside of your nose or the back of your throat with a swab and then send the swab for testing. Results may take one hour or several hours,” according to the CDC.