Schools report fewer absences

Michael Tortorich

Ascension Parish Schools have seen fewer absences throughout the district since officials started tracking attendance figures at the start of the school year.

“We have been monitoring absences since at least the beginning of September,” system spokesperson Johnnie Balfantz said.

The district has been tracking flu-like symptoms for several days, which has been a difficult task for school nurses, he added.

Schools do not verify if students do or do not have the flu, he said.

They added that the overall number of student absences has decreased. As of Wednesday, Balfantz said the absence rate was about 5 percent.

APSB policy requires that students out sick must have an excuse from a physician in order to be able to do makeup work for credit. If a parent says their child is sick without a doctor’s excuse, it is up to the principal of the school to decide if the student can do the makeup work.

Besides flu, strep throat and a stomach virus have been going around, Balfantz said.

School officials reported earlier this month that nearly every school in the system had reported cases of flu or flu-like symptoms.

The Tamiflu medication for treating flu symptoms is available in the Ascension area, according to school and hospital officials.

Pharmacist Buzzy Landry of Landry’s Pharmacy in Gonzales said the Tamiflu children’s liquid has been moving in his business faster than the adult capsules, but Landry’s has a good supply of both.

Officials have worked with local and state health officials to monitor the situation.

All parish schools have remained open and have been operating normally.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals issued an order last week to allow pharmacists to administer both seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines.

DHH also opened an online registration for health care providers interested in administering the H1N1 vaccine, which is expected to be available initially in limited quantities in October.

The delay is due to manufacturing time and time needed to complete clinical trials to determine safety and effectiveness.

“It is very important that Louisianans go get their seasonal flu vaccination, especially residents in high-risk groups that are more susceptible to complications from the flu,” DHH Secretary Alan Levine said.

More than 36,000 Americans die every year to the seasonal flu, he said.

“By allowing pharmacists to administer the vaccine, we increase access to seasonal flu vaccinations statewide, help prevent infection and needless illness in our citizens, and ease demand on our hospitals and other providers this flu season,” Levine said.

H1N1, a second strain of flu, has made its way through the state and the world well before the peak of the usual flu season.

The seasonal flu vaccine is not expected to protect against H1N1. As a result, a separate vaccination will be required.

The vaccine will be controlled and distributed by the federal government in partnership with states.

Due to limited supplies, The vaccine will be recommended first for priority groups based upon risk, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry, M.D. said priority groups include people who are most likely to suffer complications from the strain, including pregnant women who live with or care for young children, direct care health workers, emergency medical workers, people between ages 6 months and 24 years old and people between 25 and 64 with chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Because the H1N1 virus spreads easily from person to person through droplets transmitted in coughs and sneezes, DHH advises residents to practice good hygiene habits and follow official public health advice to avoid spreading germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza.

DHH recommends:

• Cover nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue in the trash after use.

• Wash hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

• Avoid close contact with sick people.

• If sick with influenza, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

For more information on flu activity in Louisiana, including guidance for families and medical professionals, visit www.flula.com.

Editor Wade McIntyre contributed to this report