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Sickness hits Washington County schools

February 10, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

A flu-like illness has caused absentee rates to skyrocket at five Washington County schools.

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E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown, Boonsboro High School and Greenbrier Elementary in Boonsboro and Funkstown Elementary in Funkstown reported absentee rates of at least 10 percent beginning Feb. 2, according to Washington County Health Officer Dr. Robert Parker.

Potomac Heights Elementary School in Hagerstown Tuesday also reported a 10 percent absentee rate, said Martha Roulette, director of student services for the Washington County Board of Education.

To monitor in-school health, Washington County public schools have a long-standing cooperative relationship with the Health Department, alerting the agency to absentee rates above 10 percent, said Roulette.

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Parker has called school absentee rates a "very indirect indicator of the peaking of possible flu-like illnesses."

He said the illness that has caused the current attendance drops might not be influenza, but a flu-like ailment.

"There's certainly something going around, but we don't have confirmation that it's influenza," he said.

E. Russell Hicks Middle School's attendance rate had been steady at 95 percent to 96 percent since September, said Principal Diedre L. Shumaker. On Monday, attendance dropped to 85 percent, she said.

She said students were running 100-degree to 101-degree fevers, and complaining of chest congestion, cough, chills, and head and stomach aches.

Shumaker said the number of faculty members absent due to illness was becoming a "real concern." She said the illness seems to last for several days, and substitute teachers are hard to find.

It's the worst bout of illness the school has experienced so far this year, said Shumaker.

She said students and staff were being reminded to wash hands frequently, and students were warned against eating or drinking after each other.

"We're just trying to remind them of good hygiene," said Shumaker.

Like E. Russell Hicks Middle School, Greenbrier Elementary School's regular attendance rate is 95 percent to 96 percent, said Principal Dale I. Garlitz. It dropped to 85 percent Monday and Tuesday, he said.

Garlitz reported the same symptoms as at Hicks, and said faculty members were affected.

"Plus, the principal's sick," he said. "That's how I know what the symptoms are."

"It doesn't seem as severe here," said Boonsboro High School Principal Helen P. Becker. She attributed the lack of noticeable symptoms to the age of the students.

"Younger children don't articulate as well to their parents," she said, adding that high school-aged students are more likely to stay home from school, altogether.

Becker said her faculty was "fine."

Funkstown Elementary School Principal Rosemarie Pellegrino refused to comment on the absentee rates due to illness.

"I'd like to keep that information in-house," she said.

In addition to the public schools, St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown has been hit by the bug, said Principal Anthony M. Durso.

"We're not exempt from the flu bug," he said.

Durso said absentee rates have been in excess of 10 percent since the end of last week, and there has been a significant faculty shortage. A substitute told him that she had seven phone calls from county public schools seeking a substitute on Monday night, said Durso.

Parker said that 10 schools during the 1996-97 season, and seven schools during the 1997-98 season, reported absentee rates of more than 10 percent.

Flu season extends through the end of February, and sometimes into March.

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