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School districts feeling effect of high flu numbers

By GARY LIBERATORE

ONEIDA COUNTY, N.Y. (WKTV) - As of Friday afternoon, the number of confirmed cases of the flu in Oneida County stands at 994.

Oneida County Health Department Spokesperson Ken Fanelli says Oneida County has the highest outbreak in the state, and is among the highest in the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, New York, Connecticut, South Carolina, Arkansas and Alaska are the only five states with what the CDC terms a 'Widespread' outbreak of the flu, the most severe.

Fanelli says as a result of this widespread outbreak, school districts are seeing a big increase in absenteeism, and in many cases, it's not just for one of two days.

"Anyone who has had the flu, flu-like symptoms, flu-like illness, they should stay out of school or work for at least 24 hours after all of the symptoms have subsided, and from what I'm hearing, most people that are getting this flu are sick for seven to ten days, so you're looking at a fairly long stretch," Fanelli said.

Health officials say the largest numbers of flu victims at this time are in the 1 to 9 years old age group, with the the second largest group being ages 9 to 14.

Fanelli says this is what the Health Department expects, because they spread it faster than any other group.

While the flu is being reported in every state, Oneida County has the unfortunate distinction of leading New York State in terms of the number of confirmed cases.

"Last year, again, we only had 329 reported cases in the entire season and the flu season ran through April of 2012," Fanelli said we already have three times as many, and we're just in the first week in December.

Fanelli says that the county is seeing an average of 60 to 70 new cases of influenza reported to the health department each day.

"It hasn't peaked yet, I'm sure, and the numbers are such that I'm sure schools are experiencing a lot of absenteeism at the moment, you know children are the biggest spreaders of the flu, frankly because they don't practice good respiratory hygiene, they don't cover their coughs and sneezes, they don't wash their hands as frequently or as well as they should, and these things are important to (stop) the spread of flu."

In the New Hartford School District, Assistant Superintendent Vince Condro says the number of absences are about double what they usually are this time of year, "It looks like most of the schools are anywhere between 8 and 10 percent of the student body is out at any given time. Typically during flu season we average 4 and 5 percent out."

Besides the doubling in the number of absences, Condro says the length of each student's absence is higher, "This season, we're finding out that they're out for more, and some have been out for a couple of weeks, very few, but most seem to be like a 4 or 5 day illness."

Condro says teachers are keeping in close contact with the parents of kids who are out sick, and are sending homework home when possible, "Basically we have to take it on a case by case basis, because when kids are out sick, there's different levels and some may be too sick and too tired to do anything, to do any work at home, and others may be able to do some work at home."

Condro adds in some cases, kids may not miss out at all, "Some of our technology, particularly in our upper grades allows for our teachers that use technology, like smart boards or interactive white boards, they can actually capture their class notes electronically and students can access those. We use whatever tools we have available."

Fanelli said that according to the CDC, this particular strain of influenza is the same strain that circulated the country in 2003-2004. He says it's a particular virulent strain of the flu, "But the good news is that the vaccine that is being given is a good match for the strain, which is sickening so many people. We're urging people, if they haven't gotten the flu shot by now, they should do so and do so as soon as possible," Fanelli said. "I remind the viewing audience that it takes two weeks to develop immunity against the flu after you've gotten the shot, so don't put it off."

The Oneida County Health Department now holds four clinics each week where you can get a flu shot.

In Utica, at 406 Elizabeth St. on Mondays and Thursdays from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m., and on Friday's from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

In Rome, at 300 W. Dominick St. on Tuesdays from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m..

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