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

RSS feed of this blog

A reader question on the flu

FluThis morning a reader from Stafford sent a question to the “Ask Fred” feature on our Web site. She wanted to know if local schools have any information on confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu virus. “I’m hearing rumors of kids having it, but nothing is posted on either of my childrens’ school web sites,” she wrote. Alex, our webmaster, asked me to answer her question.

I think it’s safe to assume that the H1N1, or swine flu, virus is everywhere, in every local school and every major business. The virus was first confirmed in the area in June, and right now it is the only flu virus circulating. If someone has flu-like symptoms—fever, cough, sore throat and runny nose—it’s safe to assume he or she has H1N1.

Last week Pam Gould, one of our education reporters, asked Spotsylvania schools about their absences. The school system supplied her with the number of students absent for the first 12 days of school. The numbers, which can be seen here, show that the school system of more than 24,000 students had more than 1,000 absences on certain days this month. The school system had breakdowns of the absences due to flu and the absences due to H1N1. Together, they were from about 20 to 80 students per day.

Jeff Branscome, another of our education reporters, asked Stafford schools for the same report. Yesterday they sent us a spreadsheet that can be seen here. The chart shows the number of absences for the first 10 days of school. (Stafford started school a week later than Spotsylvania.)  Absences in Stafford this year are running two to three times what they were in prior years. Stafford did not break down the numbers to show those caused by the flu.

I’m not surprised that Stafford did not have a breakdown of flu-related absences, especially those caused by H1N1. The rapid nasal swab that some doctors use to identify swine flu is not always reliable. Dr. Karen Remley, the state health commissioner, last week told doctors that the best tool they have to diagnose the disease may be their experience and judgment.

I don’t want to make light of the reader’s concerns. H1N1 can cause a serious sickness, especially in certain populations. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical correspondent, got H1N1 and his illness was not mild. He wrote about it yesterday here.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, “Most people with H1N1 have had mild illness and have not needed medical care or antiviral drugs.” The symptoms usually last three-to-four days. When it hits, stay home from school or work, says the CDC.