Surge in school absences attributed to H1N1 virus

The H1N1 virus appears to be causing a slight increase in absences at Ashland schools, said Belinda Brown, the district's school nurse coordinator.

On Monday, 12 Walker Elementary School students stayed home because they had flu symptoms, a significant number, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro told the School Board that night.

Health officials believe most people with flu symptoms have the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, because the seasonal flu isn't circulating yet, Brown said this morning.

"They're only testing hospitalized cases and deaths because everything's that's been identified has been the H1N1," she said. "They know it's here."

The increase in absences at Ashland schools is not yet large enough to become alarming, Brown said.

"We're not seeing a huge increase at this point," she said.

No school has seen as many absences as Walker did on Monday, she said.

Attendance secretaries are keeping a list of the number of students who stay home due to flu symptoms and the lists are reviewed daily by school officials, Brown said.

At Ashland High School, 15 students have been absent because of flu symptoms since school started a week ago today, said Callie Mercer, the attendance secretary.

Information on absences at other schools was not available this morning, Brown said.

The district is in stage one of its H1N1 response plan, Di Chiro said on Monday. The next stage might involve closing self-service salad bars and taking other preventative measures, she said.

Any students with 100-degree fevers or higher, or other flu symptoms, are being given a mask and asked to wait in an isolated area until their parents can pick them up. They must be fever-free for at least 24 hours before they return to school.

If parents suspect their children may be ill, they should have them stay home from school, Brown said.

"We appreciate parents being on top of this and partnering with us, because we're all in this together."

Contact Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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