If misery loves company, then sick Harford County students are not alone. For the second week in a row, many schools are posting higher than normal absentee rates.
Flu is to blame in most cases, school and Health Department officials say.
"It's an identifiable flu bug," said schools spokesman Donald R. Morrison. "There are symptoms of general malaise and tiredness with respiratory and stomach ailments."
Dr. Beverly Stump, deputy health officer of the Harford County Health Department -- who, ironically, was home with the flu Friday -- said, "We feel it's been a viral illness with respiratory symptoms and a few [cases] with gastric illness."
But, she added, Harford's problems with this sickness are average compared with the rest of Maryland. "I have not heard that there is anything in the state of concern," she said.
County schools are required to report student absences of 10 percent and higher, Mr. Morrison said. On the average, 93.1 percent of high school and middle school students and 95.7 percent of elementary students attend school each day.
The number of recent absences has been unusual, Mr. Morrison said.
The schools hardest hit by the flu in the past two weeks have been Hall's Cross Roads Elementary, with an average of 13 percent of its students absent; Magnolia Elementary, an average of 12.6 percent absent; Aberdeen Middle, an average of 13.3 percent absent; Edgewood Middle, an average of 12.7 percent absent; Southampton Middle, an average of 11.7 percent absent; Bel Air High, an average of 19.6 percent absent; C. Milton Wright High, an average of 12.7 percent absent; Edgewood High, an average of 14.2 percent absent; Fallston High, an average of 16.4 percent absent; and Harford Technical, an average of 12 percent absent.
On Friday, several schools were still counting hundreds of ill students, including Edgewood Middle, where 10.8 percent of the students were absent Friday, C. Milton Wright High where 14 percent were absent, and Edgewood High, where 13.3 percent were absent.
"The number of involved schools is dropping," Dr. Stump said. "It seems to be working its way out."
Also Friday, for the first time in eight days, less than 10 percent of Southampton Middle's student body was out sick, said Principal Barbara P. Canavan. For most of the week, 11 percent, or 169 students, of the school's 1,538 students were not in school.
Southampton teachers did not escape the effects of the flu either, said Mrs. Canavan, who also missed a few days due to illness. And at the end of last week, an assistant principal was home with the flu.
"It's hit everyone so hard," she said.