Fewer pupils off school with flu

Richard Newton
Richard Newton
Whille Dunedin schools have noted a decline in the number of pupils absent with influenza this year, a senior doctor is warning families not to be complacent.

St Clair School principal Richard Newton said he had noticed the same old coughs, headaches, sore throats and tummy bugs going through the school, but believed there had not been ''spikes of illness'' affecting half the school as in previous years.

''Having the kids outside playing in the sunshine and getting a lot more fresh air has certainly helped.

''Being able to open windows to ventilate the school has also helped stop the spread of viruses.''

Carisbrook School acting principal Katrina Munro said she had noticed a distinct decrease in absenteeism over the winter months this year.

''There was a couple of bugs which went around in late autumn.

''And those that have been ill have been off with stomach bugs, rather than flu.

''We're attributing that to the great weather we've had over the last couple of months.''

Brockville School principal Chris Cumberland said he had had ''virtually no problems'' with attendance this year, and believed the Fruit in Schools programme and the breakfast programme, coupled with the good winter weather, had helped.

''We haven't been struck by many bugs this year.

''All that extra sunshine they've been getting has been good for their health.''

Balaclava School principal Sally Direen said pupils not only appeared to have been healthier this winter, staff did too.

Significantly fewer staff had been off work with illness, she said.

''We've hardly had any off work this winter. It's been one of the best winter seasons I can remember.''

However, Macandrew Bay School principal Bernadette Newlands said absenteeism because of winter illness this year had been similar to last year.

Fewer pupils had been sick, but those that had, had been sick for longer, she said.

''It's the same pattern for staff,'' she said.

The latest ESR weekly influenza report showed the Southern District Health Board recorded the third-lowest consultation rate for influenza-like illness in New Zealand, behind Northland and Bay of Plenty District Health Boards.

It also showed the consultation rates for influenza-like illness in New Zealand at the moment was five times lower than at this time last year.

Virologist Lance Jennings, of the Canterbury District Health Board, said the low rate of viral infection in Dunedin was probably because of the record number of flu jabs this year, as well as the milder winter in the South.

This year, the vaccination reached 29% of the population, helping at an individual level by preventing severe complications, rather than greatly reducing the overall rate.

Dr Jennings said higher rates of vaccination meant more people were immune, making it harder for the influenza virus to take hold.

Influenza B looked to be the dominant strain this year and was known to hit children particularly hard, but it had failed to take off, he said.

''We've been lucky this year, in terms of the winter weather so far.''

However, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Ramon Pink warned families the danger period for influenza was not over yet.

''People, especially those at greatest risk from influenza complications or those in contact with people who are at high risk from influenza, should be immunised as soon as possible.

''Influenza cases traditionally begin to rise sharply at this time of year and, although numbers are currently low, we shouldn't take that for granted,'' Dr Pink said.

- john.lewis@odt.co.nz


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