Big flu toll at Hawera schools

BLANTON SMITH AND LAIRD HARPER
Last updated 05:00 30/07/2014
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Staff and students at two South Taranaki schools are "dropping like flies" after being hit by the flu.

Between a quarter and a third of Hawera High School's students are off, an average of 60 children a day are missing class at a Hawera's St Joseph's, and the number of pupils off crook has doubled at Hawera Intermediate since Monday.

Hawera High School principal Hans Konlechner said the number of cases shot up this week and now, he estimated, each class was missing eight to 10 students, with up to a quarter or more of the school's 760 students absent.

St Joseph's principal Cath Clough said the flu had struck the school "like a bolt out of the blue" and showed no sign of letting up.

"And I have five staff away as well. It's probably worse than we have had it before and some children and some teachers are really sick," she said.

"Logistically, we hope that we can get enough relievers to cover. If we get any more sick, we won't have any relievers left."

Clough said she had sent a message to all parents and caregivers urging them to keep their sick children home until they had fully recovered.

Hawera Intermediate principal Craig Simpson said that, while the numbers missing at his school were not quite as high, he had noticed the staff and students were "dropping like flies."

"We had five students off yesterday and 11 today so it's doubled overnight. They were specifically flu-related calls," he said yesterday.

"Three staff were off yesterday and another three today."

"There are others who shouldn't be here," Simpson, who was also feeling crook, said.

While the Hawera schools have been hit hard, others around the region have not experienced the same increase in illness.

Stratford Primary principal David Cripps said they did not have anywhere near that number of children or staff off.

"Touch wood, call me back next week and it might be different," he said.

Reports at Stratford High School were the same.

"They breed them tough here," a spokeswoman said.

Central Primary and Vogeltown Primary in New Plymouth both said they had not dealt with anything out of the ordinary, while there had been some staff and students at Opunake High School out with the flu.

"We're feeling the affects, it seems to be taking longer to shake," Opunake principal Maria Potter said.

"But I don't think we're seeing anything more than normal."

The Taranaki District Health Board does not collect regional data on the influenza virus but national statics indicate levels are considerably lower than expected for this time of year.

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Public health medicine specialist Jonathan Jarman said flu surveillance was based on a small number of sentinel general practices around New Zealand.

"It is possible that the increases in illness are localised and have tended to miss out the places where flu surveillance is undertaken," he said.

Jarman said there were several things people could do to stop the spread of the bugs: washing hands regularly, covering their cough, staying at home when sick, and keeping the more susceptible - kids and elderly - away from those with coughs.

The best way to be protected from the flu virus was to be vaccinated, he said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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