LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ A flu outbreak has forced schools in Kentucky and neighboring states to shut down in recent weeks. Thousands of children have fallen ill.
Health officials attribute the outbreak in part to a new type of influenza virus spreading around the country.
At least two districts in Kentucky and four in Tennessee have closed, and schools in Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa and Mississippi also have reported a rash of sick students.
An elementary school in Bloomington, Ind., reported last week that 40 percent of its 217 students were absent. Last week in Georgia, nearly a third of the pupils in Glynn County's 18 schools were out with flu-like illnesses.
Last week ``it was hitting our middle school and one of our elementaries the hardest, and then this week it hits the high school and our other elementary school,'' said Gerald Fulk, of Mason County Schools in northeastern Kentucky.
In western Kentucky, schools in Ballard County were canceled the rest of the week after attendance dipped below 75 percent.
The nation's heartland is being hit by a strain of type-B influenza that until recently had been reported only in Southeast Asia, said Alicia Postema, an epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
``Kids that are 12 or younger have probably not seen a virus similar to the influenza-B virus that's circulating this year,'' Postema said. ``That's one of the reasons I think kids are getting hit particularly hard.''
Though most people recover in one or two weeks, the flu can be deadly. About 36,000 people die from the virus each year, according to the CDC.