HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Flu activity across the Commonwealth remains at widespread levels and now one metro-county school system is seeing a higher than normal number of absences.
Henrico County Public Schools posted to social media over the weekend updating parents about what’s going on inside the classroom in terms of health.
“In multiple schools in Henrico County, children have become sick with influenza (“the flu”) and/or influenza-like illnesses,” the post stated.
“Anecdotally our nurses are reporting throughout Henrico County that they’re seeing a larger than usual number of students who are out sick,” said spokesman Andy Jenks.
This includes anything from typical flu-like symptoms to even gastrointestinal viruses.
“We are anecdotally seeing those symptoms at schools as well," Jenks added. "Sometimes flu or flu-like illnesses can kind of be put in that same category as a gastrointestinal illness.”
The post comes after several school systems in Central Virginia closed down due to a large number of students out sick due to illnesses.
King William County Schools closed down Thursday and Friday in order to disinfect all surfaces and school buses in the school system.
“We’re a lot bigger than some of those rural counties that have had to close school and that’s obviously the best decision for them," Jenks said. "In Henrico County we’re not in that position where we have to consider closing school on a county-wide level.”
Influenza is a virus that can live in an individual’s respiratory tract. The flu and other virus-like illnesses are usually spread via direct contact with an infected person who is sneezing and coughing or from contact with hands or surfaces contaminated with nose and throat secretions from an infected person.
HCPS recommends the following infection control measures to prevent the spread of these illnesses in the school population:
Encourage good hygienic practices, rest and nutrition:
- Wash hands with soap and water often, especially when exposed to someone who is sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing, or use your inner arm (elbow crease). Do not use your hands.
- Dispose of facial tissues that contain nasal secretions after each use. Wash hands afterward.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Routinely clean commonly touched surfaces, toys and other shared objects as recommended.
Stay home if ill:
- Individuals should stay home from school, work and errands when sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Students or staff experiencing fevers should remain home until they are fever-free for a full 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medication.
- The single best way to protect against flu is to get vaccinated each year.
- Influenza vaccination is usually 70-90% effective in preventing the flu in healthy persons.
- Receiving flu vaccine later in the season can still provide important protection since flu viruses can circulate as late as May. Most individuals will be protected against influenza within two weeks after vaccination.
What about antiviral medications?
- Antiviral medications may also be used to prevent or treat the flu. Talk with your health care provider for more information.
“24 hours fever free without medication is something that we recommend for those students and their families but also for the rest of our student population to be as healthy as possible in the school environment,” Jenks said.
In the meantime, Jenks added school staff is taking precautions inside the school to prevent the spread of germs.
“A little extra attention on wiping down surfaces, and our maintenance crews are doing a good job on that too," Jenks said. "I wouldn’t say we’re talking about a floor to ceiling bleaching of the entire school, although I know some folks on the internet may be recommending that right now, but I do believe awareness is higher than it often is, and that’s a good thing.”
The school system also laid out information related to gastrointestinal illnesses in the community that’s causing vomiting and diarrhea. The most common cause of gastrointestinal illness in the school setting is norovirus, which causes illness lasting usually one to three days.
Norovirus can be spread by consuming contaminated food or liquids; touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching one’s mouth or having direct contact with another person who is infected, and then touching one’s mouth.
HCPS recommends the following infection control measures to prevent the spread of norovirus in the school population:
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the restroom.
- Routinely clean commonly touched surfaces, toys and other shared objects with household chlorine bleach-based cleaners.
- To avoid spreading the illness to others, children and staff members who are ill with diarrheal symptoms should be kept home and excluded from school or other group activities while they have diarrhea or vomiting, and for 24 hours after the illness ends.
If you have any questions, please contact the Henrico Health Department at 804-501-5216 or HCPS School Health Services at 804-343-6504.
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