Flu season is back: West Texas schools are taking proactive meas

Flu season is back: West Texas schools are taking proactive measures to prevent another outbreak

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

A record 80,000 Americans died last year from the flu, and Texas reportedly ranked in the top three highest influenza rates in the country.

December is the first month of peak flu season, and if 2017 is any indication, children in schools across West Texas may be the most vulnerable. 

"So last year was actually a very severe flu year and we hadn't seen multiple cases of the flu in the school systems for quite a few years, and they did end up shutting down," Lubbock City Health Director Katherine Wells said.

Smyer ISD was one of the school districts that was forced to shut down.

Its superintendent, Dane Kerns, said the virus' impact was similar to a domino effect among students. 

"We just had a large number of kids that were being absent each day and it was approaching 18 to 19 percent of our student body and it had just gotten to the point where we feel like we need to send everybody home just to get them away from each other," Kerns said.

He said the school is taking more proactive measures to make sure this does not happen again, including installing 70 hand sanitizer stations in the building, compared to just a dozen last year. 

"We think we're on the front end of it this time instead of on the back end. We've taken a lot of precautions and we've got a little plan in place to try to hold down on the transmission and making sure we're keeping the place as clean as we possibly can. We feel like we're in better shape this year than we were last year," Kerns said.

Health Director Wells said it is also not too late to get a flu shot, adding it is the best way to prevent the virus from spreading. 

"Getting that flu shot is the one thing you can do to help prevent either transmission of the flu, or sometimes there isn't always the best match between the flu vaccine and what's circulating, but it does reduce the severity of the flu," Wells said.

Superintendent Kerns said parents must take the responsibility of keeping sick children home, or the whole school will be affected.

"It's very important that those kids that are ill stay home, so that they're not up here spreading the germs that are making everybody else sick. It's a concern for us that they're not in the classroom, that they're not learning. It's hurting our funding, our state funding, so it's a big deal for us," Kerns said.

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