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Flu hitting schools hard

The health department is warning parents that the number of flu cases is sharply increasing among students at Hernando Elementary School. Other schools, too, are experiencing a rise in influenza among students.

In a news release issued Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health stated that over the past two weeks students have been reporting symptoms of the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses that can cause mild to severe illness.

Pamela Carnevale, student health specialist, said school officials are working closely with the Florida Health Department regarding the flu season to prevent the situation from getting worse.

“The number of flu incidences has slightly increased in the Hernando area, but we don’t expect it to stay there. It can spread to other areas in the district,” Carnevale said. “We are trying to put the awareness out there so parents can monitor their children and take preventative steps on spreading this disease.”

Some people — including young children, the elderly, and individuals with certain health conditions — are at high risk for severe complications from flu, the report said.

“The flu, depending on the strain and the person’s overall condition, can get very severe. People can be hospitalized, and it can lead to pneumonia,” Carnevale said.

The first line of defense against the flu and severe complications is the flu vaccine.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all individuals six months of age and older receive the flu vaccine each year.

Since infants under 6 months of age are too young for the vaccine, it is vital for family members and caregivers to get vaccinated to protect the home from the disease, the report states.

“We want to stress there is a rise in the last several weeks nationwide, and we want folks to get vaccinated if possible,” said Patrick Boyd, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Citrus County. “It’s not too late to get vaccinated. If you have concerns, contact your local health department.”

In addition to vaccination, Boyd says to keep sick children home to prevent spreading the flu virus to others.

“If you can, we would prefer you stay home if you are sick,” Boyd said. “We want to stress to parents to keep sick children at home to prevent spreading.”

Other prevention measures are: staying away from people who are sick; covering sneezes or coughs with a tissue or your elbow area; avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth; and frequent handwashing.

Symptoms of the flu often include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, and fatigue. If your children exhibit flu-like signs, contact your health care provider as soon as possible.

Doctors can prescribe an antiviral medication for the flu that reduces the severity and length of the disease, decreases the risk of complication, and reduces the risk of death among hospitalized patients, particularly in those who start treatment early in their illness.

The CDC says treatment is most effective when started within 48 hours of flu symptoms.

“All of the schools are seeing a rise; it isn’t just Hernando Elementary. They are the first school to receive the notification because they have slightly more,” Boyd said. “All schools are seeing an increase in flu-related illness or flu-like sickness.”

For more information, please visit www.cdc.gov/flu/parents/index.htm.

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