By Angela H. Hill
School life resumed Monday after a sweeping outbreak of Type A and Type B flu last week led school officials to close all county schools – plus cancel all sports and activities – from Thursday through Sunday.
At Thursday night’s School Board meeting, Patrick County Schools Superintendent William Sroufe said approximately 400 students were reported sick with the flu or a flu-like illness.
The outbreak began last Monday when nearly 200 of the 1,000 or so Patrick County High School population was out sick. By Tuesday, the number had risen to 300. Meadows of Dan and Stuart elementary schools reported around 30 students out as well.
“It’s the worst I’ve seen it, even as a principal,” Sroufe said last week. “Even when the nation was on high alert for swine flu and avian flu, we never saw this. In my tenure we’ve never closed for illness.”
Sroufe said School Board Clerk Sara Leigh Collins found paperwork from the last time county schools were closed due to illness. It was in 1972.
While flu season can technically run through March, Dr. Frank Falbo of Pioneer Family Medical said a flu shot would not be helpful this late in the season.
“My advice to people to use good hand-washing practices and avoid areas with large crowds,” Falbo said. “Prevention is worth a pound of cure. Use common sense.”
Falbo said most of the patients he’s seen for the flu have been children, and few cases have tested positive for flu. However, testing doesn’t always pick up the flu when the infection is in its early stages.
“It’s difficult to treat someone based on a test, and you want to treat the patient, not the test,” Falbo said. “We have a pandemic, so we want to go ahead and treat.”
Symptoms Falbo has seen include a sudden onset of high fever (102-103) with body aches, congestion, a cough and a sore throat. Some cases have included nausea and vomiting, he added. “The most common thing I hear is, ‘Doc, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.’” Falbo said.
Area pharmacies carry the anti-viral medications Tamiflu and Rolenza, which is an inhaler, but Falbo recommends patients call first for availability. Plus, Tamiflu reduces symptoms only by an average of 1.4 days. Tamiflu can run $150 for patients who pay out of pocket.
Look-alike ailments Falbo has seen include adenovirus, rhinovirus and strep throat as well as generalized upper-respiratory viruses. Patients who want to be tested for the flu or strep throat can have those tests done either at Falbo’s office or at Pioneer Community Hospital Lab through the Direct Access Testing service.
Through Direct Access Testing, residents can pay $20 for a Flu A/B screening. Should one suspect the culprit is strep throat, Pioneer offers a rapid strep test also for $20. No appointment is necessary, and results are available in about 20 minutes.
Falbo said he had not seen any hospitalizations from the flu as of last week.
A second vulnerable population to flu complications is the elderly. As of Monday, Landmark Assisted Living Center and Blue Ridge Therapy Connection had no reported cases of the flu among its residents, said the facility’s administrator Melinda Collins.
“We have definitely been blessed and we hope to keep it that way,” Collins added. “We do have notices posted on all our entrances asking that if you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms please refrain from visiting at this time.”