According to the Centers for Disease Control, February typically presents with more than double the cases of flu of any of the other months which are included in flu season. While influenza viruses are present all of the time, the typical flu season with peak activity ranges from December to February, with activity and positive cases well into May. Given that the CDC estimates 55 million students and 7 million staff populate public and private schools across the nation, the flu can have a tremendous impact on schools.
Their recommendations are first and foremost for everyone (unless the person has a specific contraindication) to receive the flu shot. They recommend schools with the resources to work with area providers to offer flu clinics at certain attendance areas where historic flu exposures have been elevated. According to “Preventing Seasonal Flu with Vaccination,” students, parents, and staff should stay at home until at least 24 hours after they are first fever free, without using fever reducing medications like Tylenol. Furthermore, in focusing on schools, specifically, the CDC recommends avoiding the use of perfect attendance awards as they may encourage students to attend school when they can spread the virus. Once the healthy students are in class, they should be taught to frequently wash their hands and to cough, if necessary, into a tissue or the bend of their arms, not their hands. Since the flu virus can live up to 8 hours on a surface, it is especially important to frequently sanitize desks and other areas where students interact.
Echoing the Center for Disease Control’s sentiment was the U.S. Surgeon General who tweeted “With reports of some schools closing due to flu outbreaks, remember that it isn’t too late to get a flu vaccine! #FightFlu …” However, practically speaking, schools can rarely afford to close down due to the flu. Closing schools causes a trickle-down effect to the entire community. Just to name a few of these adjustments, parents have to find alternative childcare, days missed have to be made up or future days extended, and food programs have to be altered. According to an inverse.com 2019 article, in one month, four school systems in Alabama were eventually forced to close after over 10% of the students called in sick. Minnesota waited for 20% of the students to call in sick before closing, and Michigan closed an elementary school only after 45% of the students called in sick.
Clearly the flu has the nation’s attention. While there is no full-proof way to completely avoid the flu, proactive measures are a tremendous help. Not only does the flu cause extended sickness, lost days of work or school, and wide impacts to those around the infected, it can be lethal. According to healthline.com, there were 79,400 deaths attributed to the flu in the 2017-18 season. Therefore, amid the most infectious month of the year it is especially critical that parents and educators be aware and proactive to minimize both one’s exposure to the flu virus and its potential consequences. Collectively, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and the U.S. Surgeon General agree that getting a child his flu shot is a critical first step to winning the war on health and reducing the spread of the virus.