About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Cheers for a high number of absences

Lan Nguyen is not happy when people get sick with swine flu, but when she hears that a school system is experiencing a high number of absences, she says, “Everything is going well.”

NguyenNguyen, left, is the epidemiologist for the Rappahannock Area Health District and an advocate for staying home if you’re sick. It’s a message she’s been preaching in recent meetings with local school and government officials.

“Large amounts of absenteeism is actually a sign that our education is getting through,” Nguyen said yesterday.

In Spotsylvania schools, for example, the number of students out with the flu has ranged from 3 on Aug. 25, the first day of school, to 82 on Sept. 8. The numbers have dropped a bit since then. The school system keeps a daily tally of the number of student absences and the number related to the flu. Sara Branner, spokeswoman for the schools, supplied the information for the first couple weeks of school.

To Nguyen, the numbers seems high because they’re occurring in early September. “We would never get influenza this time of year,” she said. The culprit, of course, is the new H1N1 virus, or swine flu.

At least the illness is mild for most people and lasts three-to-four days, Nguyen said. “It resolves on its own if you keep yourself at rest for a couple of days,” she said.

“Everybody’s listening now,” she added. “There’s going to be good absenteeism.”

Spotsylvania’s chart of student and staff absences for the first two weeks of school can be found here.