School, hospital battle viruses

Published 3:22 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A variety of viruses spreading during this cold and flu season have put a strain on the school and medical systems of Polk County this week.

Polk Central Principal Dottie Kinlaw said both faculty and students have been affected.

“With us it’s hitting in classroom spots,” Kinlaw said. “We’ve had faculty and kids sick with a variety of things – pneumonia, flu, strep, high fevers. It seems like it hits one classroom, they’ll get well, and then it moves onto another.”

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Kinlaw said teachers reported 68 sick students Wednesday, Feb. 2 with 15 more who left early. When you add it all up, Kinlaw said at least 80 kids are missing instruction each day. There are about 450 students who attend the school.

“Of course that impacts everything … teachers have to reteach when those students come back, while another group of kids is out. It makes it difficult to keep consistent instruction,” Kinlaw said. “But we do the best we can and hopefully the weather will warm up and we can all get healthy again.”

St. Luke’s Hospital, meanwhile, initiated limited visitation in its facility Jan. 28 because of a combination of positive flu tests in the emergency room and the ever increasing number of students sick at Polk Central Elementary.

Lori Rothell, St. Luke’s RN and Infection Preventionist, said the hospital hopes to eliminate further spread of the virus.

“No one under the age of 18 is to visit the hospital. We know this restriction is difficult for families, but our first responsibility is to protect our patients,” Rothell said. “We appreciate the understanding and cooperation of the community in keeping our patients and the staff who care for them as healthy as we can.”

St. Luke’s predicts an increase in the number of those affected by the flu virus over the coming months with a surge of flu cases in February, according to a press release from the hospital.

“The flu can often be much worse than the common cold,” said Alison Owens, MD and Medical Director of St. Luke’s Hospital ED. “Colds will generally last a few days, while the flu can last much longer. Complications from colds are relatively minor, but seasonal flu can lead to pneumonia and hospitalizations. If you have symptoms of complication, it’s important to see your doctor.”

The common cold and flu are both contagious viral infections. Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.  Nasal congestion, sore throat and sneezing are common with colds. Both colds and flu bring coughing, headache and chest discomfort. With the flu, though, you are likely to run a high fever for several days and have headache, body aches, fatigue and weakness.

Flu symptoms are usually more severe and come on quickly. Symptoms of seasonal flu include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion and cough.

“If you become ill, the most important thing to do is stay home and rest so that you get well and you don’t infect others,” Owens. “If you develop worsening of your condition or complications, it is important to seek additional medical attention.”

Owens stresses that the medications used to treat flu are not curative but can lessen the severity of symptoms and decrease the duration of illness by about 24 hours.

Rothell said St. Luke’s employees have been briefed about procedures regarding flu prevention according to CDC guidelines.

“We have also posted notices throughout St. Luke’s with common sense steps all of us can take to avoid catching or spreading the flu,” she said. “These include thorough hand washing with soap or alcohol-based hand cleaners, covering coughs and, if required or advised, to wear surgical face masks.”

Kinlaw said the school is taking all the typical precautions, plus staff are wiping down desks and reminding parents to not bring students back to school until they’ve been on medicine and fever free for 24 hours.