Just over 13 percent of Bullock Elementary School students were absent on Monday — nearly four times the typical absentee rate on a given day.

According to Mary Hawley Oates, supervisor of school nurses for Lee County Schools, the particularly nasty flu season currently punching the nation in the gut is to blame. Most schools in the district have doubled their absentee rate this week.

“It’s definitely the flu, but we’re seeing a little bit of everything,” Oates said Thursday. “Kids coming to school with fevers and flu-like symptoms, kids with fevers and no flu, a lot of stomach issues — one classroom saw three kids throw up in a five-minute period. It’s bad right now.”

It’s bad everywhere right now, and we’ve yet to peak.

“Our latest tracking data indicate that flu activity is still high and widespread across most of the nation and increasing overall,” CDC Director Dr. Anne Schuchat told CNN this week. “So far this year, the cumulative rate of hospitalizations is the highest since we’ve been tracking in this way, which goes back to 2010.”

Seven percent of the nation’s patients who visited health care providers last week reported flu-like symptoms. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports 34 flu deaths in the state in the past month alone, and 140 death since the official flu season began on Oct. 1.

Lee County Schools has sent CDC videos to teachers and has encouraged hand-washing lessons in the younger grades. They’ve also upped their stock of hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

But most important is educating students and their parents on staying away from school if the flu finds its way in their home.

“If your kids are sick, don’t send them to school,” Oates said. “And if they get sick at school, pick them up as quickly as you can. We’ve had parents dropping their kids off with 102-degree temperatures — and the parents know this, but they have to work. A lot of families don’t have other childcare options. And some work in places that docks them for staying home with sick kids, yet if they drop them off and get a phone call at work from the district, they’re not docked those points. It’s an issue we’re trying to deal with, but it’s certainly contributing to the spread.”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the single-best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year. There are other best practices to keep it out of your system:

  1. Avoid close contact: Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  2. Stay home when you are sick: If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
  3. Cover your mouth and nose: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
  4. Clean your hands: Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth: Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
  6. Practice other good health habits: Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention