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Tallmadge -- Officials in the Tallmadge City School District say the flu and other contagious diseases going around this time of year haven't been any more of a problem this season than in previous seasons.
Staff at the schools are taking routine measures to try to prevent the spread of germs, including disinfecting classrooms, work surfaces, doorknobs and other areas throughout the buildings daily.
"As always, I'm knocking on wood because I know we're not out of the woods yet for the cold and flu season. We haven't been hit thus far," said Superintendent Jeff Ferguson.
"We are always reminding students and staff to cover mouths when coughing, wash hands frequently and other common practices for the prevention of spreading germs," he said.
Ferguson said student and staff absences at all of the buildings in the district have been because of "a mixed bag of what we usually see in January" and aren't attributable to any one illness.
One of the preventative measures the district has taken is offering free flu shots to its staff through its health insurance company.
Flu affects the county, state
Margo Erme, medical director at the Summit County Health Department, said Jan. 14 the flu is prevalent in the county.
"We started seeing influenza activity at the end of November, and it's continuing to go up. We do not believe it's peaked yet," she said.
Erme said measures of influenza infections garnered from hospital and emergency room admissions all show increases. Schools, which were out of session over the holidays, have only been back in session for a couple of weeks.
"It doesn't surprise me they're not seeing activity," she said. "That could change one or two weeks from now."
Erme said the current vaccine is designed to protect against three strains of flu and noted another strain may make its appearance before the season ends some time in May.
"It's quite possible we may see another peak in February or March," she said.
The Ohio Department of Health reported Jan. 11 that one Ohio child died from "flu-related illness," and a handful of adult deaths have been linked to the flu, the Associated Press reports.
It's not calling the flu outbreak "an epidemic," according to Tessie Pollock, a department spokesperson.
"It's an early start to the flu season," she said.
Ohio is among 47 states with widespread flu outbreaks, and health officials blame the flu for at least 20 child deaths nationally, the AP reported.
Flu-associated hospitalizations are running at much higher rates than the last two seasons. The state reports there have been 1,922 since October in Ohio, compared with 86 a year ago and 175 the previous season.
Some hospitals have begun limiting visitors and handing out surgical masks to try to slow the spread, and health officials are urging people to stay home if they are sick and to keep ill children out of day cares and schools.
The Ohio Health Department advises people to get flu shots, noting there are sufficient supplies of the vaccine available around the state. While flu shots aren't a guarantee against catching the flu, Pollock said the vaccine seems to be a good match for current strains.
"Building health habits into your routine will also go a long way in preventing the flu," she said.
Pollock suggests regular hand washing with either soap and water, or using hand sanitizers, and staying home if you're sick.
"It's something that's more easily said than done, but it really does help curb the spread of illness," she said.
Dunbar learns how
to deal with germs
Some of the district's youngest students, those at Dunbar Primary School, learn about how to prevent the spread of germs through lessons in the curriculum that focus on proper hand washing, coughing into an elbow instead of a hand and using hand sanitizer after blowing a nose.
"Our young students benefit greatly from these informal-type lessons," Dunbar Principal Courtney Davis said.
Second-graders also learned about hand washing and hygiene when students from Kent State University's nursing program visited last October.
But children aren't the only ones who can help prevent the spread of germs. Davis offered this reminder for parents:
"One of the most important preventative measures is that parents keep their child home from school if he/she has a fever and/or symptoms such as vomiting. Children must be fever-free for 24 hours, without the use of medicine, before returning to school."
District's plan to deal with an outbreak
If the flu or other contagious disease causes a drastic increase in illnesses, the school district has a plan.
Ferguson said the Summit County Health Department tracks the number of absences for every public school district in the county. If Tallmadge Schools has a concern there's an outbreak of an illness, he said certain measures, such as having a cleaning company do a more rigorous scouring of the buildings, can be taken.
Substitutes will fill in for ill teachers, and students who miss school generally have the same number of days they missed to make up their work. Extenuating circumstances because of extended illnesses can be discussed with teachers, Ferguson said.
"Online has helped us, where a lot of teachers have the work available online so once a child is feeling better maybe they can get some of it," Ferguson said. Not all coursework is available online, he said.
Ill students also have the option of calling the school to have their missed work collected for them so they can pick it up.
Nordonia Hills News Leader Editor Eric Marotta and the AP contributed to this report.