School closes as flu strikes

KIMBERLEY CRAYTON-BROWN
Last updated 05:00 27/07/2012

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Influenza has struck Southland, with one school closing its doors yesterday after the illness struck three-quarters of its students.

Trinity Schools acting principal Anne Canny said St Teresa's School, Bluff, was closed yesterday and today because 75 per cent of the school's 34 pupils were home with the flu.

One of the two staff members also had the flu, Mrs Canny said.

With nine children at school, some of those also showing flu-like symptoms, the board of trustees decided to close the school and help contain the illness, she said.

The school spoke with the Health Ministry and a public health nurse had visited the school and recommended the temporary closure.

Everything at the school was being disinfected before pupils returned on Monday, she said.

"By then we are hoping everything in the school is clean and de-bugged."

Mrs Canny recommended that, if any children were unwell, parents kept them at home until they were 100 per cent.

Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Marion Poore said general practices in Southland and Otago had noticed an increase in influenza-like cases during the past week, and some had been admitted to hospital with respiratory illness.

Lab tests showed the cases were influenza A (H3N2), a strain covered by this year's vaccine, she said. "Some primary schools have been badly affected by influenza this week," Dr Poore said. "There is no public health reason for the schools to close but, if schools are unable to operate, then that is a decision they could make and there is a formal Ministry of Education process for that."

Invercargill Primary Principals' Association president Kerry Hawkins, also principal of Waverley Park School, said Public Health South had sent an advisory to all schools this week.

He said 10 to 15 per cent of the 265 pupils at his school, were absent, mostly with flu. The public health advice would be sent home to parents.

However, Southland Secondary Principals' Association chair Yvonne Browning said she was not aware of a problem at secondary schools.

Mrs Browning, who is the principal of Southland Girls' High School, said they had "no more than usual" off sick.

"That doesn't mean we are not going to get it, just at the moment it isn't a problem."

Information provided by the Southern DHB shows last week Otago and Southland had one of the highest influenza-like illness consultation rates in the country. Figures for this week will be available later today.

Of 20 DHBs, Southern was the fourth highest with 177.9 consultations per 100,000, and 102 cases for the week ending July 22.

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Canterbury had the highest consultation rate with 238.3 per 100 000, and 169 cases. The national rate was 102 per 100,000. These rates are considered within the “normal seasonal influenza activity” range of 50 to 249 influenza-like illness consultations.

Dr Poore said the numbers were not surprising because typically they started to see this pattern of illness in late July.

"Teenagers and young adults are the age group most affected at present,” she said.

"There is still time to get the flu vaccine - the vaccination programme has been extended to the end of August, so we really encourage people to get vaccinated.”

- © Fairfax NZ News

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