Flu hitting area hard this winter



ELLSWORTH — With apologies to Nyquil, the sniffling, sneezing, aching, coughing, stuffy-head, fever season is here.

Illnesses, including influenza but other viruses as well, are spreading around Hancock County, particularly in area schools.

Surry Elementary School students and teachers were stricken with a fever and cough earlier this month.

“On Tuesday, January 14, we started the day with 26 students (out of 155) absent due to illness, and over the course of the day sent an additional 10 students home,” said Principal Fred Cole. “That totaled 36, or 23 percent of our students. We also had six staff out that day with the illness.”

Cole said there was no confirmation that the sick students and teachers had the actual flu virus. However, the school did contact the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which suggested sending a flyer home with all students detailing how to recognize flu symptoms and prevent the spread of flu.

A letter Cole sent home with students includes the following advice:

  • Keep your child home until his or her fever has been gone without medication for 24 hours. If a child is sent home with a fever, he or she cannot return to school the next day.
  • Keep children home for 24 hours after an incidence of vomiting or diarrhea. Keep children home until 24 hours after the first dose of antibiotics for anything. The exception is treatment for strep throat — that’s 12 hours following the first dose of antibiotics, Cole said.

Regional School Unit 25 (RSU 25) Superintendent Jim Boothby said Bucksport had “one school hit particularly hard where we saw a low of 81 percent attendance for students.”

“The dip below 85 percent attendance lasted for three days and fortunately we saw a rebound in attendance and we are back to what I would consider normal attendance,” Boothby said.

School Union 76, which includes the area from Sedgwick to Stonington, has had numerous absences as well. Superintendent Christian Elkington said the union has had 20 percent to 30 percent of students out for illnesses in recent weeks.

Dr. Michael Murnik, a physician at Blue Hill Family Medicine, said much of what his practice is seeing is influenza B and primarily in children. Symptoms include fever, cough and runny nose.

“Stay away from sick people if you can and wash your hands a lot,” Murnik said.

“Go get your vaccine,” Murnik added. “It does take a couple weeks. This season is going to go on a while later, we think.”

If you need a flu shot and are uninsured or cannot pay for a flu shot, the Ellsworth Free Medical Clinic can give you a free shot, thanks to a donation from a clinic supporter, said Dr. Maggie Harling, who is a clinic volunteer. Call the clinic at 667-7953 and ask for an appointment for a flu shot.

There are four types of influenza but two types, influenza A and B, are the strains that result in seasonal illnesses, according to the health information website Healthline.

Hancock County has had 67 people test positive for the flu this season, according to a weekly report from the Maine CDC. There have been four hospitalizations due to the flu.

The southern part of the state, including York County, has been hit much harder. York has had 664 people test positive for influenza and 36 hospitalizations.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that so far this season there have been at least 15 million flu illnesses, 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths from the flu.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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