Mike the Mad Biologist

For anything? Excluding very rare norovirus outbreaks, I can’t remember ever reading about school absentee rates like these from Grafton, MA:

Grafton High School closed early today after more than a third of its students and more than a quarter of its staff stayed home sick. It is the only school in the state to close, according to public health and education departments, but absenteeism has been elevated some communities across the state. At the beginning of the school year, state officials urged schools to close only as a last resort during flu season and instead focus on keeping sick students isolated at home. Grafton school and public health officials were in close contact with the state health department before today’s action, Smith said

Keep in mind, this isn’t that a third of the student body became sick over a two week period. One third were sick on the same day.

I don’t mean to sound all ‘In my day, we came down with Ebola. And we liked it!’, but I’ve done some basic Googling and Lexis-Nexising, and I haven’t found anything like this, where so many schools have been hammered with a virus–and it seems from Boston’s spring experience with TEH SWINEY FLOO!!, that many schools did have incredible absenteeism rates. Grafton isn’t exceptional.

Maybe it’s just a result of a completely naive, unexposed population (against most influenzas, some people will be immune, either due to previous or current vaccination or exposure). Perhaps if we monitored rhinoviruses the same way, we would see colds spread through schools in a similar pattern–even though, one-third of students having a cold on the same day still seems extraordinarily high. Although my memory is foggy, I don’t remember this kind of epidemic spread for colds either (granted, absenteeism for colds is lower, but that should only increase the spread through schools).

On the other hand, vaccination rates weren’t that high against influenza, and handwashing hygiene 25 – 30 years ago was non-existent: we certainly didn’t have alcohol handwashing stations in classrooms. And we liked it!

I’m not going into La-La Land here–I’m not blaming TEH EVIL LIBRUL VACKSEENS. But is my memory (and Googling) being really selective? Or have we not really witnessed something rip through so many schools on a regional and national level for decades?

Comments

  1. #1 JD
    October 25, 2009

    It’s the fault of those New Atheists. Jebus gets teh madz.

  2. #2 NewEnglandBob
    October 25, 2009

    Scienceblogs were screwed up. I had to wait several hours before I could read this post. It just gave a blank page.

  3. #3 Mara
    October 25, 2009

    My daughter’s preschool class had 7 kids out on Friday, from a class of 15. My daughter was one of the holdouts, but I think she’s getting sick now.

    Fortunately, the kids seem to have a fairly mild case of swine flu or whatever it is.

  4. #4 cc
    October 25, 2009

    At my school we have asked anyone that comes down with flu-like symptoms to stay home until they are without fever for 24 hours.

    People are still getting sick, but with people more aware they are staying home to let this flu ride it’s course. Our staff is working with the students that miss a lot to get them back on track and everyone is essentially pitching in to try and keep the spread of the flu to a slow pace.

    So far it has been working. Lots of hand washing, not coughing or sneezing into hands (everyone is using their elbow-pit!), and staying away from public areas if you think that you are seriously sick. Simple!

  5. #5 Joshua
    October 26, 2009

    I wonder if this just indicates that the public awareness campaign is working? I.e., kids who are showing symptoms, even mild ones, are being kept at home rather than being sent to school sick to infect their classmates.

  6. #6 IanW
    October 26, 2009

    Maybe this will be a good thing in the long run. As people realize what serious health-risks viruses can be, perhaps they’ll abandon the anti-vaccination woo-ers and get a clue?

  7. #7 sue
    November 2, 2009

    20 kids out the same week in two 7th grade classes – all caught the flu while on a field trip to Catalina.

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