With the Centers for Disease Control determining that flu is widespread in Arizona and virtually across the continental United States, schools in Ahwatukee saw little impact as students returned last week from their two-week winter break.
But officials for both Tempe Union High School and Kyrene school districts are holding their breath, fearing the worst is yet to come.
“I have checked with both Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista and neither school has seen an increase in student or teacher absence since returning from winter break,” Tempe Union School District Jen Liewer said four days into the first full week of school in 2018. “They both said that things seem to be normal as it relates to absenteeism.”
“I think folks were ill over the winter break as I have heard from several people that this is the case ... But since returning on Monday, it doesn’t seem to be an issue,” she added.
Kyrene spokeswoman Rosalie Hirano reported the same thing on Thursday, Jan. 11, stating, “The nurses have not had any reports from health assistants at the schools of excessive amounts of students in the health office presenting with influenza-like symptoms. They also have not had any surveillance requests from the state for the 2017-18 flu season.”
However, Hirano added, “They were not certain if our attendance clerks had the capability of flagging all absences called in as ‘flu’ or ‘flu-like symptoms.’”
As for Kyrene teachers, she said, the district human resources department “reports our absence rate for both certified and support staff is lower this week than it was the week before winter break and is typical for this time of year.”
But the next day Superintendent Jan Vesely said she fears the epidemic may strike, noting six students in one class at one school were sent home in a day for exhibiting flu-like symptoms.
Vesely said she’s afraid that once students spend enough time together in the close confines of classrooms, the bug may make its presence felt.
And that won’t surprise the state Department of Health Services, which said the most current data available “shows influenza activity continues to rise statewide.”
It noted in a release that the 11,515 cases of influenza reported this season compare drastically to the 1,109 total cases for the same time period last year.
“As kids return to school from winter break, we expect influenza cases to significantly increase,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “Parents should make sure their kids are vaccinated and keep them home from school if they have flu-like illness or symptoms.
“Due to the severity of this year’s influenza season, it is critical that everyone is taking precautions to prevent the spread, including getting vaccinated right away, staying home when you’re sick, washing your hands frequently, covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, and avoiding touching your face.”
Arizona hospitals statewide continue to experience long emergency room wait times due to the high number of flu cases, the department added, urging flu victims to be judicious in seeking treatment.
“After consultation and requests from healthcare and public health partners, ADHS is advising ill people to only seek emergency medical care if they are at high risk for serious complications or are experiencing severe symptoms. People with mild symptoms or at lower risk from complications from influenza should stay home and rest or call their healthcare provider.
“If you’re at high risk or have symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness, confusion, persistent vomiting, cannot drink fluids, or have flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever or worse cough, seek emergency medical care immediately,” Christ said.