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Schools report high absenteeism

School administrators say they have seen higher than normal absenteeism rates this week, but they are not sure how much of those absences can be attributed to the H1N1 flu.

Andalusia Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty said there were as many as 100 absences at Andalusia Elementary School on Monday.

“That is extraordinary for August,” she said. “We rarely have an absentee rate that high during the normal flu season.”

Opp Superintendent Michael Smithart said the system’s schools had an absentee rate of 11 percent Wednesday, which was slightly lower than the 14-16 percent rate Opp City Schools had seen in the previous two weeks. He cautioned it was difficult to know how many of those absences are flu-related, because there have also been several students diagnosed with other illnesses such as strep throat.

McAnulty said it’s not only the students who are out sick.

“The greatest problem is how contagious this strain is,” she said. “We have had some teachers who are out, either because they have the flu themselves, or because they have children who have it. I’m concerned that we keep enough adults healthy to educate our kids. So far, we’ve been lucky with that.”

McAnulty added the absentee rate could be inflated because of parents who are not sending their healthy kids to school out of fear they may catch the flu.

“We absolutely want the kids to stay home if they have the fever and are sick with the flu,” she said. “But at the same time, if they’re healthy, we want them here. I know that some parents are keeping their (healthy) children at home because they’re worried they have been ‘exposed’ to the flu. School is important, and we need them here.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests these everyday steps to protect against the H1N1 flu and other strains of influenza:

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.