Flu season strikes at schools' attendance

Thursday, February 14, 2002

There were so many sick children at R.O. Hawkins Junior High on Wednesday that the nurse's office didn't have enough room for all of them to lie down.

And it's not just that Jackson, Mo., school. Kids all over Cape Girardeau County have been hit with a bug. Central High principal Mike Cowan said his school has an average daily attendance rate of about 95 percent, but in the past few days it has dropped to about 86 percent.

"It's definitely flu season at Central High School," Cowan said. "At one point Monday we had 106 kids out. Even our attendance secretary went home sick, so we don't know exactly how many kids are out today."

Daniel Beard, Jackson Middle School principal, said his school has been averaging 100 or more students absent per day since Monday, an amount four times the normal absentee rate.

"They've had stuffy heads and sore throats and some are throwing up," he said.

But kids aren't the only ones fighting fevers and achy muscles. At Central Junior High School, seven teachers and the school nurse called in sick Friday.

Sick kids and teachers aren't good for schools, but they are good for pharmacies.

"We can normally get a prescription in and out under 30 minutes," said Christy Vandeven, a pharmacist at Walgreens in Cape Girardeau. "Our numbers have been very high over the past few weeks, and during rush hours it sometimes takes as long as two hours to get them ready."

Cowan recommends his "magic elixir of life" as a remedy: a glass of 100 percent pure, unsweetened grapefruit juice consumed daily at 5:04 a.m. He says he can't remember his last illness.

But the Cape Girardeau County Health Department has a different idea.

Jane Wernsman, assistant director, says people suffering from flu-like symptoms should drink plenty of fluids and get a lot of bed rest. Parents should avoid giving aspirin to children 18 years and younger.

"Definitely avoid overcrowded situations, and contact a physician if you're feeling really bad," she said.

Wernsman said 32 cases of the flu have been diagnosed in Cape Girardeau County so far this year, and upper respiratory infections, like bronchitis, have been going around as well. To treat respiratory infections, she said, patients must see their doctor and get antibiotics.

hkronmueller@semissourian.com

335-6611 extension 128

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