Metro-East News

1 in 4 Litchfield kids has flu; other districts at normal absentee levels

One in four Litchfield students was out with the flu as of Thursday, but other schools haven’t had those kinds of outbreaks yet.

Litchfield schools announced Wednesday evening that school would be canceled for the rest of the week, as 23 percent of the student body was out with influenza. Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger said she hoped the students would be able to recover over an unexpected four-day weekend, while custodians worked to sanitize and disinfect surfaces within the school.

Other metro-east schools were seeing normal absentee levels, which Belleville 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said is about 2-3 percent up to 10 percent in flu season.

“I know some of our buildings have been hit, between staff and kids, but nothing like 23 percent,” Klosterman said. “If we experience what we think is a higher uptick of flu symptoms, our custodians do extra cleaning, paying attention to knobs and handles.” But the reality is, Klosterman said, a building of 300 to 500 kids with 50 to 75 staffers may have someone who doesn’t realize they’re infected.

O’Fallon District 90 Superintendent Carrie Hruby said her district had seen an increase in influenza absences, but not nearly as high as Litchfield. “We have increased sanitizing efforts and reminders to students to wash their hands thoroughly and often,” she said.

Likewise, Collinsville Unit 10 and Edwardsville District 7 were showing what superintendents called normal absentee rates. Both districts were stepping up cleaning efforts, encouraging hand-washing and asking parents to keep children home if they showed symptoms. Collinsville Superintendent Bob Green said district employees also were offered the flu vaccine at no cost to them.

Belleville 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier also said attendance rates are normal. “We don’t seem to have been hit too hard by the flu yet,” he said. “I hope I didn’t just jinx us.” As with other districts, Dosier said the custodial staff is conducting extra disinfection of door handles, railings, desktops, etc.

The flu killed more than 20 children in Illinois last year, and this year’s outbreak was predicted to be nastier than usual. This year’s vaccine may have been mismatched for the strains that are taking hold this year, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Four states already have widespread flu activity, while there was no real spread at this point last year, according to NBC News. The dominant strain appears to be H3N2, which causes more severe illness than others.

But the flu vaccine still has enough strength to lessen the impact, both on the individual patient and on the outbreak, experts say. A new vaccination is needed every year because of the shifting nature of the flu, and it’s not too late to get one for this year.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald