The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

December 12, 2012

Flu-like symptoms strike N.E. Prep

The Daily Southerner
MIRANDA BAINES

TARBORO — Fever. Cough. Headaches. Those are some of the symptoms students and staff at North East Carolina Preparatory School in Tarboro have experienced over the last couple of weeks.

“Fevers, nausea, vomiting, body aches, coughs, sniffles. It runs the gamut,” said Taro Knight, director of communications and community outreach for the school. “We’ve probably had more kids and faculty and staff absent the last couple of weeks than usual.”

“I had 12 children out sick last Tuesday, out of 20,” said kindergarten teacher Beverly Fellows.

Knight said he experienced the flu-like virus and all its side-effects last week.

“From Saturday after the [Tarboro High School] championship game until Tuesday night I was in bed,” Knight said, noting Alka-Seltzer and his “grandmother’s concoction of medicine” eased his illness.

Sending children with flu-like symptoms home right away “for the sake of the student and for the sake of others” and practicing good hygiene are some of the ways school officials are keeping the outbreak of the virus at bay, said Knight.

“We’re making sure that each classroom has a hand sanitizer dispenser,” he said. “Our custodial staff is disinfecting as much and as often as we can.”

Armed with a bottle of Lysol and a box of Lysol disinfecting wipes, school custodian Lawyer Carter made his rounds Tuesday, cleaning areas where germs would most likely be found.

“We spray and use wipes on all doorknobs that they touch, at least twice a day,” Carter said. “We use bleach in the bathroom to keep down germs.”

Since younger children are usually the “first ones” to get sick, most of the kindergarten teachers have Lysol in their classroom, said Carter, adding “every classroom and every office” in the school has a box of tissues.

“We spray down several times a day,” said Fellows. She also teaches the children proper hand-washing practices, such as scrubbing while humming the tune of the “Happy Birthday” song.

“I keep it very clean [in the classroom],” said Pat Carter, Fellows’ teaching assistant. “The germs are bad because of the weather … 75 degrees in December! It’s not cleaning the Earth. That’s why we have so many germs.”

“We try our best to keep bacteria down with ventilation,” Lawyer Carter said. He said all the air filters in the school have been changed within the last two weeks.

The students have about one more week before winter break begins, on Thursday, Dec. 20. Until then, Knight urges parents to keep their children home from school if they are sick the previous night.

“If they have any fever, a good rule of thumb would be to keep them home for 24 hours before returning to school,” Fellows said.

Students in Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) will be released for winter break at midday Friday, Dec. 21. Ruth McDowell, child nutrition director for ECPS, sent an e-mail to cafeteria staff this week regarding the outbreak of illness.

“This has been a really bad winter for flu-like symptoms. There’s something going around and a lot of our employees as well as managers have been affected by it,” McDowell wrote. “Please remind your staff to constantly wash and sanitize their hands. We want every employee as well as the children to stay healthy for the holidays.”

The number of excused absences increased across the board for ECPS in the third month of the school year, with Bulluck Elementary reporting the highest number of excused absences (370) and Stocks Elementary reporting the second highest (312).

Health officials warn this flu season could be the worst in a decade, with the number of cases higher than usual for this time of year.

“A lot of people are presenting with flu-like symptoms,” said Michelle Etheridge, public information officer for the Edgecombe County Health Department. She said the department has had only one confirmed case of the influenza virus this season.