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Alcona schools close due to illness

LINCOLN — The campus of Alcona Community Schools has been closed for two days, including, Monday and today, due to the spread of influenza “A” and strep throat in the student and staff populations.

Superintendent Shawn Thornton said the closure was due in part to a recommendation by District Health Department No. 2 and the Alcona Health Center, which has clinics in both the elementary and high school buildings.

Thornton said last week staff noticed an increasing number of students were testing positive for influenza and in some cases strep throat.

“We felt it would be advisable to close the school for Monday and Tuesday so that the students and their families had an opportunity to get well,” she said.

As of Friday Thornton said the district was averaging an absentee rate of 119 to 131 students due to illness out of a student population of 708 students.

She said although there are illnesses in every grade level, the majority of students experiencing sickness are in the kindergarten through sixth grade level.

Thornton said there are a few staff and faculty who have become ill as well. She said Friday afternoon parents were notified of the school closure via the school messenger system which notifies parents through a direct call to their home telephone.

Thornton said combined with the two emergency days of school closure, as well as the accumulated snow days this year, there will have to be at least one extra day of school tacked on to the end of the year.

As of Monday, only two days were scheduled for the district to be closed.

“We are staying in constant contact with the health department,” Thornton said. “Our buildings send information about any students who have any type of communicable disease on to the health department, and we will work in partnership with them to see if additional time off is needed.”

Thornton said this is a similar story with districts across Michigan that are closing due to illness. She said this is not the first time that it has occurred in Alcona.

“I have had to close the school before because of communicable disease for a day many years ago,” she said. “This is a precautionary measure to reduce the spread of any further illness. This is out in the community.”

While the schools are closed, Thornton said administrators had extra custodial staff sanitize all areas of the school building as well as the bus fleet.

Thornton said influenza A is a strain of the flu and can be spread through talking, sneezing and can be contagious the day before symptoms occur and up to seven days after.

“Symptoms include headache, cough, fever, body aches, chills or fatigue and we’re asking anyone who is experiencing these symptoms to seek advice of a health care professional,” she said.

DHD2 Medical Director Dr. Russell Bush, M.D. said the reason the flu can spread so quickly in institutions like public schools is the relative close proximity people are in from day to day.

“They are together for extended periods of time,” he said. “They are sharing the same air and the same space, talking and sneezing. Most of these diseases are spread by droplets formed when someone coughs or sneezes or has their mouth up to something, and touching stuff, and putting their hands on their face.”

Bush said the last time local schools were closed because of illness, in his memory, was in 2009 when the H1N1 virus, a type of flu, was spreading in the United States from Mexico.

He said there are effective ways to stop the spread of flu and to not contract it.

“The biggest thing is covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze,” he said. “The second is frequent hand washing; those are the two biggest things that will help keep you and any individual from picking it up as well as spreading it to other people. It’s really the simplest of things and that is what public health recommends, sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow.”

Jason Ogden can be reached via email at jogden@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Jason on Twitter @jo_alpenanews.

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