Flu cases growing this season

Saturday, February 19th 2005, 10:59 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Cases of influenza and flu-like illnesses are steadily increasing in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and most other areas of the state, the Oklahoma Health Department reported.

Illnesses tend to hit children and adolescents first, then adults later, state Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley said.

Sickness levels in the past few weeks have quickly increased from sporadic to regional, and widespread activity is expected soon, Bradley said.

East-central, southeast, northeast, southwest and central areas of the state have major flu- season activity, but northwest Oklahoma doesn't.

Health authorities report numerous cases of the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, the most common cause of pneumonia in children under age 1.

Some hospital emergency rooms have been packed with patients who have the flu or a flu-like illness, Bradley said.

Many school districts have had difficulty finding both substitute teachers and bus drivers to replace sick staff.

``We've really struggled,'' said Nancy Niemann, Ponca City assistant superintendent. Staff absences have been particularly high at West Middle School and Woodlands Elementary School in Ponca City.

Durant schools are experiencing similar staff shortages and high numbers of student absences due to flu and flu-like illnesses. One day, Durant's Northwest Heights Elementary School had 110 of 600 students out ill.

Absentee rates among students and staff in Putnam City Schools are high. ``Either we've been sick or a spouse or our children,'' said Steve Lindley, district spokesman.

Bradley said children and adolescents are getting sick sooner because their immune systems are less developed, they play in close quarters and they don't practice personal hygiene as well as adults.

In Oklahoma City schools, ``nurses have been quite busy over the past couple of weeks with students suffering headaches and high temperatures'' district spokesman Todd Stogner said.

``Some of our parents have reported back to us that their family physician has confirmed the flu. Not only has this hit our student population, but schools have experienced some greater staff absences over the past couple of weeks, as well,'' Stogner said.

In Edmond, ``it seems that some students are absent, come back, and are absent again. Also, the absences often are several days,'' Brenda R. Lyons, Edmond associate superintendent, said.

The viruses cause a fever accompanied by chills, headache, weakness and a lack of appetite.

Also, both parainfluenza and adenovirus cause upper- respiratory problems, particularly among infants and children.

Flu symptoms come on quickly. Symptoms of flu and flu-like illnesses tend to last from three to six days, authorities said.

To curb the spread of infections, the Health Department recommends that Oklahomans: do frequent hand washing; avoid close contact with those who are sick; stay at home when sick; and cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.