Area's flue outbreak is easing School absence rates seem to be abating


An outbreak of flu that sent absentee rolls soaring is starting to dissipate, area school officials report.

In Baltimore County, the flu outbreak appears to have peaked after reaching its zenith about the middle of last week, said William L. Follett, a spokesman for the county Health Department.

"Hopefully, we're on the downside," he said, after a week and a half of increasing absences among children with flulike symptoms. Schools are required to report to the county Health Department when absences rise above 10 percent.

This year's flu outbreak has been identified as "very similar to B Yamagata," a type more likely to affect children, although it has been confirmed in Maryland nursing homes as well, Dr. Diane Dwyer, medical epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said today.

Follett said 40 percent of the students at Summit Park Elementary were absent a week ago, the highest total reported last week. Twelve schools reported absences of 12 percent to 20 percent last Wednesday, he said.

On Friday, nine schools reported unusually high absences. By Monday, that had dropped to five, Follett said.

"It's spread throughout the county; there's no particular pocket," Follett said. The absences tend to be heaviest at the elementary- and middle-school levels, he said.

Similarly in Anne Arundel County, the flu also appears to be abating after several months, said Betsy Rice, coordinator of health issues for the school system.

"We had a couple of bad months," Rice said. "We began to see the effects late December. It just escalated throughout the month of January."

She said 15 of the county's 121 schools were hit particularly hard, with absence rates of about 18 percent.

There were no reports of teachers or administrators being severely affected, or of the schools in need of additional substitutes because of the outbreak, Rice said.

"It looks like the worst is over," she said.

Eight of Carroll County's 30 schools reported absentee rates of 10 percent or more yesterday, compared with a normal 5 percent absence rate, said Richard J. Simmons, a county pupil personnel worker.

South Carroll High School, with 17 percent of its students out, was particularly affected. He said other schools may have had absence rates that were high but still below the 10 percent threshold for reporting to the central office.

In schools with unusually high absence rates, Simmons said, "The vast majority of those are due to the flu."

Harford County reported one school with more than 19 percent absenteeism last week. Seventeen schools had more than 10 percent absent.

In Baltimore, "We don't have any marked absences because of the flu," said Douglas J. Neilson, spokesman for the city School Department.

However, he said flu absences could be masked by the city's high absentee rate, which averages more than 18 percent even on a normal day.

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