The flu virus, and strep throat, has left scores ill and has caused events across the Valley to be canceled.
Kim Deti, of the Wyoming Department of Health, said flu-like activity across the state was on the upswing. Last week’s numbers for flu-like illness was about double the previous week, and that was double the week before, she said. County health officials also say that cases are up across Carbon County, though numbers by individual counties are not available.
The outbreak, which has hit Saratoga schools particularly hard, led to the cancellation of sporting and other events over the weekend. The numbers of ill children also prompted the Carbon County School District #2 (CCSD #2) to perform a special disinfection of school buildings Friday, when no students or staff were present. Officials also canceled SHS’ weekend basketball game due to illnesses.
Jim Copeland, CCSD #2 superintendent said Monday that a week prior, SMHS had 40 students out sick, which accounted for about 35 percent of the student body. Monday, the absence rate at the middle/high school was 23 students, or about 17 percent of the student body.
SES had 27 students out a week ago, about 19 percent, and 34 students out Monday, about 21 percent.
Encampment School Monday had 24 students out, which accounts for 17 percent of the student body. Other schools in CCSD #2 had much lower occurrences of illness, Copeland said.
Copeland said he thought strep throat was the more common diagnosis among students, but influenza was also making a lot of students ill.
Dean Bartholomew, director of the Platte Valley Medical Clinic in Saratoga said earlier last week, strep throat was more prevalent among students, but that by the end of the week the flu had taken over as the more common diagnosis.
Friday, the schools went through a disinfection routine intended to get rid of viruses or bacteria that were making students ill, Copeland said. The schools, Copeland said, have regular disinfection routines, but Friday’s was intended to be more radical. The school, he said, used a special disinfectant that should go a long way toward getting rid of viruses and bacteria that are causing illness among students.
Amanda Brown, Carbon County Public Health Nurse Manager, said typically the peak season for flu in the county is between January and February, though that varies.
Last year, the peak for the flu season came in late March and Early April, according to Deti at the state health department.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list Wyoming’s flu-like illness activity as “widespread” for the week ending Jan. 21.
Bartholomew said it appears this year’s flu vaccination may have been “a little off,” saying that some who had the vaccine were still getting ill. According to the CDC, most flu vaccines immunize against three or four strains of flu. Scientists must try to predict which strains will be a problem before the vaccines are made or administered.
That notwithstanding, Brown says the vaccine is still worth getting. Flu can be deadly, especially for the very young, the very old or those who have immune disorders or other chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disorders.
Bartholomew said that patients should monitor health, and be aware of the difference between flu symptoms and those of strep throat. Flu often causes elevated temperatures, he said, and the strain that seems to be in the Valley now also seems to cause headaches and a cough. Strep throat, on the other hand, can cause significant throat pain and body aches.
For strep throat, which is caused by bacteria, antibiotics are effective at treating the illness, Bartholomew said. For the flu, there are antiviral drugs on the market that can reduce the duration of the illness, but Bartholomew said the policy of the clinic is to only prescribe those drugs to patients under CDC guidelines. Those guidelines suggest antivirals for patients who are over 65, under 2, or adults that have immune deficiencies, respiratory disorders or diabetes.
Brown said for those who have not yet gotten sick, vaccines were still available by calling the health department at (307)328-2607. The health department can bill insurance companies and help people get the vaccination, even if they can’t pay right away.
The vaccine takes two weeks to reach peak efficacy.
Copeland, Brown and Bartholomew all agree that if a person is sick, they should stay home to avoid spreading the illness. CCSD #2 is asking parents to monitor their children’s temperatures and keep them home from school if a child is running a fever.
The flu strain currently in the Valley can cause significant fever, Bartholomew said, with temperatures as high as 102-103 degrees.
Otherwise, staying healthy is a matter of common sense, Bartholomew said. People should wash their hands frequently; stay away from people they know are sick and follow other general precautions. Children, he said, should be encouraged to not share cups or other drinking containers with friends, and practice good habits like washing hands frequently.