Winter colds and influenza have been taking an increasing toll across Nodaway County, and a number of area schools are reporting a larger number of absences due to illness, especially at the elementary level.
Administrators and school nurses say that while there have been relatively few diagnosed cases of true influenza, kids are still going home sick, many of them after suffering from nausea and vomiting — so-called "stomach flu."
Maryville R-II Superintendent Larry Linthacum said that district-wide attendance on Wednesday was only 88 percent, down about eight points from the usual average of 95 or 96 percent. The attendance rate improved somewhat Thursday, when 92 percent of R-II students answered roll.
Other schools in the county reported varying levels of student illness this week, ranging from just a few absences at Jefferson C-123 in Conception Junction and Northeast Nodaway in Ravenwood to "a lot of sickness" at South Nodaway Elementary School in Guilford, where Thursday's absentee rate was around 9 percent.
Horace Mann Laboratory School at Northwest Missouri State University reported five cases of authentic influenza Thursday out of a total K-6 enrollment of 116.
School officials said the university has put a "sanitation plan" in place in which students and staff are reminded daily to wash their hands. In addition, custodians are taking time to disinfect as many frequently-touched surfaces as possible.
Bonnie Ingels, the nurse at St. Gregory's School, echoed a number of her colleagues in saying that flu has been less of a problem than a nasty intestinal virus that seems to be making the rounds just about everywhere.
Six of St. Greg's 168 students were out sick Thursday, but only one student this week has been diagnosed with true influenza, Ingels said.
But make no mistake, flu season — one of Missouri's worst in recent years— is here.
Early on, most cases of influenza this season were confined to St. Louis and other densely populated eastern Missouri counties. However, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention now rates the Show-Me State's outbreak as widespread across all regions.
Still, Nodaway County Health Center Administrator Della Rhoades said Thursday there is an indication that the flu bug may be abating in the Maryville area.
"There were a number of positive results this week, meaning that influenza was confirmed in those cases," Rhoades said. "But we may be started on the downside of that."
Nevertheless, Rhoades emphasized that it is still not too late to get a flu shot, and that personal hygiene, especially washing one's hands or wiping them with disinfectant gel, is now more important than ever.
Flu vaccinations are available from individual health-care providers, St. Francis Hospital & Health Services and the Health Center, which accepts, but does not solicit, a $15 donation per shot.
Page 2 of 2 - The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported more than 13,000 positive influenza tests in early January, up about 170 percent from last year.
Flu can spread from person to person at distances of as much as six feet through coughing or sneezing. Infection can also occur from talking to or touching someone or touching a contaminated surface.
According to the CDC, people with flu symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes nausea, should separate themselves from others and stay home from work, school, social events and public gatherings.
For more information on preventing the spread of flu and treating flu symptoms, go to the CDC website at www.cdc.gov.