KeepHealthCare.ORG – Oregon schools add breaks in response to UW-Madison flu study | Local News
The Oregon School District will have three longer weekend breaks next school year, after a UW-Madison study in the district showed time off curbs the spread of flu.
The study, started in 2015, also found that an increase in student absences for illness typically comes two weeks before an uptick in clinic visits for flu.
During this past winter’s heavy flu season, the rise in absences occurred five weeks before medical visits shot up — making school sick days a good warning sign in preparing for pandemics, or especially deadly outbreaks.
“There is good correlation between school absenteeism and influenza, both in the school and broadly in the community,” Dr. Jonathan Temte, of UW Health, who leads the study, said Tuesday after presenting results at a conference on campus. “It gives us the ability to have a much better system of looking all over at what’s going on.”
The end of the school year will be three days later. The four-day weekends are in addition to Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks.
Teacher professional days were moved from summer to October, February and April to make training more convenient and help reduce the spread of flu, said Brian Busler, superintendent of the district south of Madison.
“There’s an educational value to having some breaks throughout the school year, not only from an academic standpoint but also from a medical standpoint,” Busler said. “It is a lesson learned from the study.”
Temte said he’s not aware of other school districts in Wisconsin that have extended or added breaks in an effort to prevent flu transmission. In some situations, doctors might recommend calling off school or conducting classes online, he said.
“One of the thoughts is whether a school district would be willing, in the event of a bad influenza outbreak, to basically go on diversion,” he said.
Temte’s Oregon Child Absenteeism due to Respiratory Disease Study, or ORCHARDS, is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is expected to continue for three more years.
Since 2015, researchers have monitored absentee rates in Oregon’s six schools and asked parents to report symptoms of children who are sick at home. Scientists make home visits, swabbing the noses and throats of the students and testing for flu.
Among 700 children who have had home visits, influenza has been detected in 105. Flu contributes to absenses more than other viruses, Temte said.
It’s no surprise that illnesses spread when children are in close contact. But the study found flu cases among students dramatically increased after Thanksgiving last year and plummeted over winter break.
“The simple action of bringing kids together, in my mind, is kind of like pulling the control rods out of a nuclear reactor,” Temte said during a presentation at the Wisconsin Virology Conference, organized by the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene.
School breaks won’t stop flu but can delay it, he said. “Slowing things down, in the future, allows time for development of vaccines, deployment of vaccines, deployment of antiviral agents,” he said.
With student absences for illness generally going up 15 days before surges in flu clinic visits — five weeks prior last year — schools are an effective and inexpensive way to predict flu activity, Temte said.
“One could turn even the most resource-poor school district in Wisconsin into a flu-monitoring point,” he said.