Health officials say flu, not strep, likely made students sick

March 09, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Health officials said Wednesday they believe it is influenza - not strep throat - that has caused more than 100 students at C.W. Shipley Elementary School to become ill since January.

It normally takes two to three weeks for influenza to pass through a community, and some county schools could see absentee rates of up to 20 percent as the flu passes through the county, said Dr. Rosemarie Cannarella, Jefferson County health officer.

"We are in a community outbreak of flu," Cannarella said Wednesday afternoon.

Officials initially said last week that 144 students at C.W. Shipley School had strep throat, which is a bacterial infection most common in young children and teenagers.

Health officials said Tuesday that throat swabs had been administered to about 30 students at C.W. Shipley Elementary School in an attempt to get a better idea what has sickened the children.


Health officials said that if the throat swabs confirm that the problem was strep, the results would be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to get a better idea what strain of strep it is.

As it turns out, most of the children had viral symptoms, which points to a viral illness, Cannarella said. And the predominant viral illness in the county now is the flu, Cannarella said.

A "rapid strep test," which was positive, was conducted on some children at C.W. Shipley, Cannarella said. But that does not mean that is what caused their illness, Cannarella said.

They could simply be carriers of strep, Cannarella said.

"That strep test is not the tell all," said Humbert Zappia, epidemiologist for the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health.

To battle the flu, Cannarella suggested ways to limit its spread, such as practicing good hand washing, not going to work or school while battling the flu and covering one's mouth when coughing.

If it is the flu that is spreading through the county, the only thing sufferers can do is "ride it out" and drink plenty of liquids to make sure they do not get dehydrated, Zappia said.

"You become well on your own," Zappia said.

Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols said this week that flu has been spreading in other schools in the county, which is typical for this time of year.

Nichols said he thinks part of the problem is due to parents sending sick children back to school too early.

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