1 school in Boyle closes for flu

jwarren@herald-leader.com, gkocher@herald-leader.com, kward1@herald-leader.comAugust 18, 2009 

JUNCTION CITY — Numerous absences because of flu-like illness prompted the Boyle County school district to cancel classes for the rest of this week at Junction City Elementary School, Superintendent Mike LaFavers said.

Health authorities are assuming that the cases are H1N1 swine flu.

Junction City Elementary has 353 students.

Absences began Aug. 12 and have increased each school day since, LaFavers said.

"On Friday, it was significant, the number of students that were out," LaFavers said, and on Monday, the number was even greater. He said 17 staff members called in sick.

The other four schools in the Boyle County system will continue to have classes this week because attendance in them has "been around 97 percent," LaFavers said.

Boyle County began classes on Aug. 6. LaFavers said it's unusual to cancel classes because of flu so early in the school year.

In Marshall County in Western Kentucky, an elementary school and a middle school have each had one confirmed case of swine flu, said Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association.

Gwenda Bond, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said Monday afternoon that suspected flu cases have turned up in various Kentucky school districts since classes resumed. Numbers are unclear, because health officials aren't testing all patients, she said.

"We're assuming that they are H1N1, since there really is no flu other than H1N1 circulating right now," Bond said. Seasonal flu typically doesn't appear until cold weather arrives.

Hughes said that, aside from "bus routes and crying kindergarten children on their first day, this is probably the most-discussed topic" among Kentucky educators right now.

"There's a tremendous amount of information exchange going on," he said.

Gov. Steve Beshear has called an influenza summit in Frankfort for Sept. 3 to discuss steps needed to prepare for the possibility of a severe flu season this year.

Bond noted that although last spring's outbreak of H1N1 swine flu faded with the arrival of warm weather, a few cases appeared over the summer. Because of that, health authorities expected a surge in cases after school started. Now, that might be happening, Bond said.

"It's what we predicted, once people started coming back into close settings," she said. "If you have just a few kids who are sick, it's easy for it to spread rapidly."

Bond said the situation emphasizes the importance of continued good hygiene, including regular hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if you feel sick.

Federal health officials expect to offer two kinds of flu vaccine this fall — one for regular seasonal flu and another to protect against H1N1.

In addition to the spread of the flu among students, Hughes said, another concern for school districts is the disruption if schools become sites for mass public inoculations.

"This is something that schools are going to be dealing with throughout the fall semester," he said. "It's here, it's around, and this is going to play hell with school schedules."

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