Flu season causing school shutdowns across the U.S.
(Ga.) Despite school closures throughout the country tied to high numbers of flu-related absences, relatively few children have received a flu shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With flu activity likely to remain high for several more weeks, various strains of the virus have already led to the deaths of 84 children nationwide.
Among reported pediatric flu deaths this season, only 26 percent of children eligible for vaccination had received any flu vaccine this season before they got sick, according to CDC.
Only approximately two of every five children in the U.S. had received an influenza vaccination by early November 2017, according to the CDC, a number that is about equivalent to coverage at the same time last flu season.
While the CDC reports that this year's vaccine has been just 36 percent effective against both A and B virus strains, officials still recommend everyone receive a flu shot.
Thus, even if someone gets the flu, if they have been vaccinated, they are more likely to remain sick for a shorter amount of time or have less severe symptoms as someone without the vaccine.
As of February 16, nearly every state is reporting to the CDC widespread flu activity with the exception of Oregon, Hawaii, Guam and the District of Columbia. And with so many students, teachers and other school staff experiencing symptoms, districts have been forced to take additional days off due to excessive absences–especially in states including Illinois and Tennessee that have had particularly high numbers of flu-related absences.
In Illinois, one school in Hillsboro canceled school for two days in December because nearly a quarter of the students were out sick. And late last month, the Illinois Math and Science Academy closed for a week as a result of a flu outbreak, which also affected as much as 20 percent of the school’s teachers.
Knox County Schools–as well as 22 other schools and districts in Tennessee–closed for at least a few days earlier this month. Student attendance in Knox County had dropped to about 88 percent prior to the closure announcement, and at one point, district officials said 572 staff members were absent, including teachers, teaching assistants, counselors and other faculty whose absence requires a substitute.
One North Carolina school closed for two days in January after 140 students, four teachers and a school nurse were absent on the same day, and another 21 students went home early due to flu-like symptoms.
Similar school closures were made in Mississippi, Oregon, Kentucky, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama since the first of the year, and janitors worked during those closures to sanitize classrooms and other common areas.
Officials in one Oklahoma school district where attendance rates are down about 4 to 5 percent compared to last year have said that keeping students who stay home with the flu on track academically has been especially challenging this year.
“We have seen an increase in absences because of illness,” Rick Thomas, superintendent of Skiatook Public Schools, told Tulsa World. Any time a student misses class there is the potential for it to affect their education–it is difficult to make up the instruction time lost.”
In Dorchester County, South Carolina, school was delayed for many students after bus drivers contracted the flu earlier this month. At one point, as many as 18 school bus drivers were out sick, and substitute drivers unfamiliar with routes were more likely to run behind schedule.