Illness spreads through schools

More than 120 elementary students absent Monday

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— The school nurse's office has been a popular place for elementary students as "the bug" is causing an increase in absences for both students and teachers.

Soda Creek Elementary School in Steamboat Springs was the hardest hit on Monday, with 73 students and 12 staff members calling in sick, Principal Judy Harris said.

"This is unusual," said Harris, who fielded many of the calls from parents reporting their children sick. "We've been hit hard."

Strawberry Park Elementary School reported 47 student absences, as well as a handful of staff members who took a sick day.

Cathy Kmetz, Soda Creek's nurse's aide, said the school clinic was a zoo Monday.

"We had standing room only in here a couple of times today," Kmetz said. "We gave out a lot of Tylenol."

The school does its best not to send children home, but when students are sick and a disruption in class, going home is often the best option, she said.

School nurses recommend parents of sick children keep them home from school until they're healthy, particularly because staying home helps stop the spread of germs. Nurses also encourage children to wash their hands often and to sneeze and cough into the crook of their elbows, not their hands.

Dot Haberlan, a registered nurse and team leader for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association's School Health Services, which provides services for Routt County's public schools, said hand washing remains the single most effective way of preventing illness. Children should wash their hands after sneezing, coughing, wiping their nose, using the bathroom and handling animals. Using antibacterial hand gels are a "reasonable alternative" to washing hands with soap and water, Haberlan said.

Children also should drink lots of water and get nine hours of sleep, particularly when showing symptoms of an illness.

Haberlan said the sick bug making its way through Steamboat's elementary schools appears to be a viral infection.

"We've seen some strep (throat), but what we're seeing now is a lot of respiratory viral infections," Haberlan said. "It's a bad bug. If you can avoid sick people and crowded rooms, that's what you should do.

"If a child has been running a fever, didn't sleep well, isn't eating well and can't function at their usual speed, they should stay home. Rest is crucial to getting better."

While empathizing with working parents who can't always stay at home with their kids, Haberlan said keeping sick children home can help protect them from contracting more serious illnesses.

The Hayden and South Routt school districts didn't report significant student absences Monday, but Haberlan warned that those districts often experience outbreaks two weeks after Steamboat schools.


-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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