Flu-fighting fairy helps kids stay healthy

Flu cases remained low in Ashland schools this week — possibly due to the work of Fiona the Flu Fighter.

For the past two weeks, Ashland High School senior Chloe Deckwar has dressed up as the anti-H1N1 fairy and visited district kindergarten and first-grade classrooms to teach students how to avoid spreading flu germs.

"The most important thing is not to touch your eyes, your nose or your mouth," she told Walker Elementary students Thursday.

Several times a week, when she's done with her classes for the day, the 17-year-old straps fairy wings to her back, grabs her glitter wand and dons a pink-and-purple wig — all in the name of health.

"It's fun to dress up like a fairy and teach them something, too," Chloe said.

With the help of Belinda Brown, nurse at Ashland middle and elementary schools, Chloe "Ashland-ified" the Oregon Department of Health's Fiona character, she said. The presentations, which she hopes to give to older students next, are part of her senior community service project at the high school.

Chloe's presentations — in which she uses glitter and a spray bottle to show how germs can spread — seem to be effective, Brown said.

"It's a fun way to reinforce the material," she said. "It's a really good way for them to get this key information."

The number of Ashland students absent with H1N1 virus symptoms remained low over the past seven days, according to a district report released Thursday.

Although the total number of flu cases increased over the previous week, the numbers can be misleading because the previous week students had three days off.

When the totals for both weeks are divided by the number of days students spent in school on those weeks, the figures show that, proportionally, flu cases actually decreased in the past seven days.

In the seven days ending Thursday, 117 students were absent with flu symptoms, or 23 per school day. The previous week, 67 were absent, roughly 34 per school day.

"It does look like kids are healthier," said Samuel Bogdanove, the district's director of student services. "Our hope is that it goes down even more and that we get through H1N1 season, but so long as the numbers are low, we're breathing a little bit easier."

Attendance secretaries are recording when students are absent due to flu symptoms. Because it is too early in the year for much seasonal influenza to be circulating, health officials are assuming that anyone with flu symptoms likely has the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, Bogdanove said.

The district is scheduled to receive the H1N1 vaccine next week, at which time it will be available to students and at-risk staff members.

As soon as Bogdanove confirms the vaccine delivery date, he will send out a letter with more information to all district households with children, he said.

In the past seven days, the number of flu cases remained relatively low at all district schools, with Willow Wind Community Learning Center and Helman Elementary School recording the highest percentage of their student bodies absent due to flu symptoms. About 6 percent of the students at both schools were absent, according to the district report.

District officials are hoping Chloe's efforts — and those of other, non-costumed, flu fighters — can help stop the spread of H1N1 and decrease the number of absences, Bogdanove said.

"We're still keeping an eye on things, because I don't think the H1N1 season, so to speak, is over," he said. "I think Fiona is going to make quite an impression on our primary grades and they're going to remember to wash their hands and cover their coughs after having her visit."

Chloe said she's also been following her alter-ego Fiona's advice and hasn't so far caught the H1N1 virus.

"I've been religiously washing my hands," she said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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