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Flu empties some Oklahoma classrooms

Cherokee School District dismissed class for the rest of the week as the flu spreads across Oklahoma.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Modified: January 15, 2013 at 7:47 pm •  Published: January 15, 2013

In the Putnam City School District, absences are steadily rising, district spokesman Steve Lindley said.

The first Monday in November, the district had about 1,000 absences. The first Monday in December, about 1,100 students were absent. This Monday, about 1,300 students were out of school. That's nearly 7 percent of the student body.

“We can't say why those numbers are climbing, but it's probably a combination of things,” Lindley said. “It's the flu, a stomach virus. There's strep (throat) going around.”

Absence rates have been normal in Tulsa, Tulsa Union and Edmond schools, representatives from the districts said Tuesday.

Schools set guidelines

When to close school is up to local officials, said Tricia Pemberton, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department.

Schools don't have a minimum attendance requirement, Pemberton said. If school district leaders ask for guidance, state workers suggest closing when absences reach about 15 percent.

The state Health Department also doesn't say when schools should close because of illness, epidemiologist Becky Coffman said. Instead, health workers help schools communicate with parents about the flu and other illnesses.

A school should have a plan for what to do when a child shows symptoms of the flu, Coffman said.

For example, a school should have a place where they can place a child away from other students until a parent arrives, she said. Also, the school should have at least one adult designated to supervise the child.

A child with the flu should not go back to school until he or she hasn't had a fever without taking medicine for at least 24 hours, she said.

Kids don't always have the best hygiene, which can create an environment that's easy to spread the flu in, Coffman said.

“Kids can pick it up and spread it among themselves more easily than adults,” she said.

About half of all children ages 6 months to 18 years old receive the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“While it's not a perfect vaccine, it reduces your chance of getting the flu, and it definitely reduces your chance of getting severe flu,” Coffman said.

So far this flu season, 27 Oklahomans ages 5 to 18 have stayed in a hospital because of the virus, according to the most recent state Health Department figures. It's the lowest rate of any bracket. No deaths have been reported for the age group.

Contributing: Staff Writers Vallery Brown

and Jaclyn Cosgrove