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Nurses on flu patrol in Gilford schools

November 11, 2009
Flu season is coming early this year, according to Gilford Elementary, middle, and high school nurses, with dozens of kids having visited their offices and numerous children kept home, or even sent back home with reoccurring influenza-like symptoms.

What struck an urgent health notice to parents on Nov. 2 was the day two Gilford students tested positive for H1N1 clearly indicating that the flu, in one of its most severe forms, may be here to stay. However, the nurses reported less absences in the last few days at the school board meeting last Monday night.

The letter assured parents that faculty and nurses have been planning ahead, as far as 2005 said GMS nurse Rosanne Sheridan.

"H1N1 never left. It has been here all along," said Sheridan in her presentation to the school board. "We worked on this in 2005 (before H1N1 came along) to develop a pandemic plan for the school district. We (the U.S.A.) continue to carry the highest number of H1N1 cases."

The Center for Disease Control stated that New Hampshire, among other states, has reported a wide spread influenza-like illness. The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services is also keeping track of reported absences in the state, and although the absences are high, Sheridan said a lot of absences are due to other illnesses such as strep throat. She added that something as innocent as a family vacation in the colder months factors into absences as well.

Flu-like symptoms that nurses and faculty members are now trained to spot include signs of fevers, sore throats, coughs, stomachaches, and the biggest starter symptom this year: "screaming headaches."

"We sent kids home with screaming headaches and 98-degree temperatures, and sure enough, the next day they had the flu," said GHS nurse Meg Jenkins.

Sheridan explained that the nurses are required to send a report on the amount of absences each say, and then a state report is created from the data sent by surrounding schools.

GES nurse Jen McGonagle said that her younger students were the first to get hit with these influenza-like symptoms, and that she even had to send some her students back home when they developed reoccurring symptoms. The middle school than began developing symptoms, and then the high school, said the nurses, which seemed to be a "sibling wave," yet all three nurses collaborate and brace each other for such situations.

McGonagle said it is a matter of "calming this wave down." She has dealt with handfuls of sick children in the last few weeks, but she said it would have been hard to handle without the aide of prepared teachers who spotted symptoms before they got worse.

"They are my watch dogs at GES. They have been the eyes and ears. They send me the kids. They know what they are looking for," said McGonagle.

Sheridan added that the school Web site helps keep parents stay informed, and that the school nurses must constantly stay informed.

"We have gone to conferences specific to the area. We educate staff, students, and parents constantly. Parents have listened and kept their kids home," said Sheridan.

School board member Derek Tomlinson suggested finding other methods, rather than the school Web site in order to inform parents of such information and health issues since not everyone accesses the internet. He said that the first sign of a severe headache may be a symptom that parents would want to look for, and that the nurses may want to consider sending another notice home.

The nurses were not opposed to this idea, although McGonagle mentioned that her younger patients had a range of starter systems, and that not all parents would be able to go by this pattern.

Jenkins reminded the school board that demonstrating simple yet efficient precautions such as hand washing, avoiding sharing drinks and food, and eating healthy, have been proven to keep the bug away. Jenkins said she is most happy to see that her students are now avid hand washers and often stop by the office for a clean up or two.

The stomach bug also seems to be on the rise, said Sheridan who finds that many symptoms that appear to be flu-like at first end up as another form of illness this time of year, because influenza usually reigns in the springtime. She said that a few students are still kept out of recess or scheduled for half days at school until their symptoms disappear for good.

Gilford schools are also trying to go easier on the sick kids when it comes to making up the loads of work they may have missed, since they don't want to discourage them from staying home when they may still be contagious. Teachers have been instructed to give their students an "ample opportunity" to finish up their missing work.

Parents also have the option of connecting with the Superintendent with any concerns when their children are out of school. The good news is that attendance rates are starting to go up again, and school nurses are crossing their fingers in hopes that round-two is not on its way.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Town of Alexandria
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