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Schools monitor illnesses

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

CONYERS -- Although the flu season has not drastically affected east metro Atlanta schools as much as it has in the past, school officials still want to help students and their families be aware of common winter illnesses and spreading of germs.

Last year, Hightower Trail Elementary School in Conyers canceled extracurricular activities and had students eat lunch in small groups, and Rockdale County Public Schools canceled the superintendent's community forum after an unusually high number of students came down with the flu or flu-like symptoms.

This year illness hasn't reached those levels.

"It doesn't seem as bad yet," said Cindy Ball, director of Community Relations at Rockdale County Public Schools. "We haven't seen the absenteeism that we saw last year."

Still, system officials are monitoring schools, especially those with high absenteeism rates.

"We still promote prevention and hand washing and respiratory etiquette," she said.

Health departments and school systems are warning parents to look out for symptoms and help prevent the spread of germs with common winter sicknesses like strep throat and the flu.

"As with any illness, individuals with a fever should remain out of school until fever free for 24 hours or 24 hours after starting antibiotic therapy," said Alana Sulka, director of epidemiology and community health at the East Metro Health District.

The East Metro Health District, which covers Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties, hasn't seen any clusters or outbreaks this season of strep throat or tested any influenza specimens from the area; neither are reportable conditions in the state.

"Many persons experiencing mild flu-like symptoms do not seek medical attention," said Suleima Salgado, director of public relations and health promotions from the health department. "Of those that seek medical attention, many are not tested for influenza and are treated based on a clinical diagnosis only."

Sulka said strep throat is caused by Group A Streptococcus, which is an organism found frequently in the throat and on the skin and also can cause impetigo.

"Most infections caused by Group A Streptococcus are mild and easily treated with antibiotics," Sulka said. "Persons concerned that they or their child may be ill with Group A Streptococcus should contact their health care provider to be tested and for appropriate treatment."

Schools also do not have figures for strep or flu illnesses, as guardians do not always list why their children are absent from school, officials said.

Still, Georgia is seeing high levels of people with flu-like symptoms in emergency rooms. Additionally, the virus seems to be spreading, Salgado said.

"Most flu-related ER visits are from individuals 24 years of age and under," she said.

Although students soon will be on winter break and away from schools for a couple of weeks, the timing of flu is unpredictable, often varying from season to season. It usually peaks in January or February, and seasonal flu activity can occur as late as May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many health clinics offer flu vaccines, and the CDC recommends that most people 6 months and older get a flu vaccine.

"Currently, there is more vaccine available than ever before," Salgado said. "A recent national telephone survey suggests about 33 percent of the population is already vaccinated. Persons who still have not received a flu shot can obtain a flu shot at our health centers for $20."

The Newton County Health Department is located at 8203 Hazelbrand Road in Covington and can be reached by calling 770-786-9086. The Rockdale County Health Department is located at 985 Taylor St. in Conyers and can be reached at 770-785-4345.