DIS and PSMS report surge in flu absences to DHEC
The number of students out of school due to flu or flu-like symptoms at Daniel Island School and Philip Simmons Middle School was high enough for both schools to report a potential “influenza outbreak” to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). The student populations impacted at both facilities could be as much as 20 percent, based on SCDHEC’s reporting guidelines.
According to Tim Kelly, SCDHEC’s director of media relations, the department does not routinely receive numbers for absenteeism or causes of absences/illnesses from schools, and as a result exact numbers on student cases can’t be provided. But he confirmed that an influenza outbreak was reported from Daniel Island School on Jan. 18. Berkeley County School District later informed The Daniel Island News that Philip Simmons Middle School’s flu-related absences were also reported to DHEC. For the current influenza season, schools have been asked to report to DHEC when either of the following have occurred, noted Kelly:
• 10 percent or more of the total student enrollment is absent on a given day for reasons not otherwise specified (i.e. vacation, sporting events, inclement weather)
• 20 percent or more students are absent or sent home on a given day in a cohort (e.g., a classroom, sports teams, or other epidemiologically-linked group) attributed to influenza-like illness and/or influenza.
“When a potential influenza outbreak is reported…guidance on prevention and control are discussed with the school,” added Kelly. “This guidance includes excluding ill students per the School and Childcare Exclusion list, working with students and staff to ensure good hand hygiene and cough etiquette, environmental cleaning, and providing influenza information to parents.”
Berkeley County School District did not use the term “outbreak” when responding to questions about influenza-related absences, only that a few schools in the district are seeing “a sudden increase” in flu-like illnesses this season.
“Much like the rest of the country, schools in Berkeley County School District have seen a recent increase in flu-like illnesses among students and staff members,” stated Brian Troutman, digital communications specialist for BCSD. “Those cases of what’s believed to be flu or a flu-like illness have not been particularly high at a certain school.”
Troutman added that BCSD custodial crews are working to ventilate and disinfect areas as much as possible. Some of this work is necessary at times when students aren’t at school, simply for the benefit of being able to access an area not busy with students, he noted.
“This is something we are monitoring, as providing a healthy learning environment is a priority,” continued Troutman. “We ask those with a flu-like illness avoid coming to work or school and consult their physician immediately. Proper and frequent hand washing, along with sneezing and coughing etiquette are also important.”
Troutman also noted that letters were sent to all parents and staff members on or about Jan. 19 as reported flu and flu-like illnesses saw an increase nationwide. The message included the aforementioned tips on avoiding and preventing exposure, along with additional recommendations from DHEC.
Additionally, Kelly stated it’s not too late for students, school staff or family members to receive the influenza vaccine for this season.
“It takes about two weeks for your body to build up protection after getting the vaccine, so the sooner you get the vaccine, the better,” he said.