‘Tis the season

County sees increase in flu-like cases in some schools

As students return to Washington County schools after the holiday break, county health officials are seeing in increase in the number of children absent due to “influenza-like” illnesses.

“We’re starting to see more viral respiratory illness activity,” said Fred Anderson, epidemiologist with the county’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

The Minnesota Department of Health earlier this week reported an increase in in influenza cases during the yearend holiday period. However, Anderson said county officials have not received reports of influenza cases from clinics, hospitals and nursing homes.

“That doesn’t mean influenza cases aren’t out there. I’m sure there are some cases out there,” he said.

Anderson said it’s still early in the annual flu season. He expects DPHE will begin receiving reports of flu cases since students returned to school Wednesday.

“Influenza-like illness cases, yes, we have seen some,” he said. “Some school districts in the county are seeing an increase in elementary school absences. Whether that’s influenza, that’s hard to tell.”

Anderson said it’s a matter of time before flu cases are reported to DPHE.

“Oftentimes, we’ll see this classic pattern that right before the school break, we’ll see an increase in respiratory illnesses,” he said. “Once school is back in session, we’ll start to see an increase in illnesses.”

One reason Anderson said the flu hits elementary schools is due to more person-to-person contact between children who forget flu-prevention hygiene tips such as washing hands frequently and covering coughs.

“Kids are kids,” he said. “We’re trying to get them to develop good personal hygiene.”

Anderson said Minnesota’s flu season usually starts peaking later this month before winding down in early spring.

“Usually we’re seeing it in the latter part of January into early February,” he said. “That is when we see our peak (flu) activity. We’re winding down by the end of March.”

Because it’s early in the flu season, Anderson urges anyone who has not received an influenza vaccine to get one because it takes about a week for a person to build immunity after getting vaccinated.

“It’s not too late to secure an influenza vaccination,” he said.

Along with getting vaccinated, Anderson said persons should wash their hands frequently and cover coughs.

Persons suffering the flu should get rest, drink plenty of fluids and stay home from work or school for at least 72 hours while ill, Anderson said.