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Flu outbreak causes school closures in Johnson County

By Bethany Anderson

Johnson County and other neighboring counties have been hit hard by the recent flu outbreak. The current flu season started at the beginning of October and will last until May. According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), as many as 17.8 million people nationwide have been reported sick with the flu virus. With the bulk of those cases reported during the first week of February.
According to Johnson County Community Hospital, 944 cases of flu had been reported locally by February 7 with 475 of those cases reported within the first week of February, making it a particularly bad week for new reported cases of flu nationally and locally.
It has unfortunately been a deadly flu season as well. Of those infected, over 19,000 have died this flu season alone, and over 221,000 people have been hospitalized with the illness. So, it is understandably a concern for our local schools.
Due to the high numbers of flu cases in our county, the Johnson County School District chose to close all schools. The automated calls were made Monday afternoon that schools would be closed for the following two days.
The pre-recorded message from Johnson County Schools Director, Mischelle Simcox said, “Due to an increased number of the flu, strep, and other viruses with our staff and employees, Johnson County Schools will be closed Tuesday, February 18 and Wednesday, February 20 in an effort to stop the spreading of these viruses. Our custodial employees have been working diligently to disinfect the schools and will continue to do so while we are closed. This will give them a needed opportunity to get ahead of the spreading illness. We hope everyone remains safe and healthy and that those who are ill feel better soon.”
By Wednesday evening, however, another automated call went out to parents regarding the school closures. This pre-recorded message came from Dr. Stephen
Long who said, “Johnson County Schools will be closed tomorrow, February 21 and Friday, February 22 due to continued widespread illness among our students and employees. In making this decision we have consulted with our local healthcare professionals. The number of patients being seen has not diminished, and we feel that returning to school this week could extend this wave of flu and other illnesses. We have continued and will continue to disinfect our schools, and we commend our custodial employees for all of their hard work. We hope that all of you who are sick will feel better soon and that the rest of you remain healthy. We look forward to seeing you soon.”
School Health Services Supervisor Wendy Henley saw many Johnson County School students as patients. Henley helped school health officials administer flu vaccines to students in the fall of 2018 before flu season was underway. She also provided a rapid response test for the flu and was instrumental in identifying many of the
local cases and help to
curb the outbreak by
sending those students
home.
The CDC reports that this year’s vaccine, formulated for the H1N1 strain of the influenza virus, has been 47 percent effective so far. Comparatively, last year’s vaccine was only 37 percent effective at this same point in the flu season.
About 90 percent of the cases tested by the CDC
this season are the milder strain of H1N1 flu. However, ten percent at the
H3N2 strain that was prevalent last flu season. Health officials are seeing evidence that the H3N2 virus is
causing a growing proportion of flu cases. According to an interview with the AP, Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert
said, “That’s unusual, and it’s not clear why that’s happening.”
Local health officials, including the Johnson County Health Department, still highly recommend getting your flu vaccination if you haven’t already. Johnson County Health Department Public Health Educator Angie Stout said, “We do have some vaccines available, but they are in limited supply. So I’d recommend calling first. But we do want people to come to get them while they last.”
For more information about Johnson County High School, please visit www.jocoed.net.