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MCS Hopes "First Wave" Of Pandemic Is Waning

North Manchester News-Journal of North Manchester, Indiana

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Manchester Community Schools nurse M.A. Hire is hopeful that the first wave of H1N1 influenza, which began as students returned to school, is now on its way out. She reported to the school board November 3 that absentee rates have been on the decline since fall break.

As in schools across the state, the virus made for an unusually early and strong start to the typical flu season. In North Manchester, absentee rates hit double digits on October 20 with 14.1 percent of students absent at Manchester Intermediate School.

The rate isn't reportable to the State Department of Health until it reaches 20 percent or more. To date, 86 Indiana school districts have reached the 20 percent mark since September 14.

"There's no rhyme or reason to it, but MIS was hit the hardest there for a while. Fall break really seemed to help slow the spread of the virus. We've been at a 3 to 9 percent rate since then," Hire said in a phone interview.

She added, "However, I hope the message is getting out to parents that there is plenty more to come. If we were to see these number stay low the rest of the year, I would be ecstatic, but I know better. We've still got the rest of the flu season, and we typically see the most illness later in the season."

State health officials also noted a decline in flu activity in the last week of October, but said it was too soon to tell if the trend would continue. While there was a drop in the number of visits to emergency rooms for influenza-like illness and in school absentee rates statewide, 13.1 percent of all visits to doctors' offices were for flu-like symptoms, which is a historic high.

The virus is hitting the younger age groups especially hard.

Hire reported that plans to conduct mass vaccinations in each of the schools are still on schedule for early December unless she hears otherwise from the Wabash County Health Department. The nationwide rollout: of vaccine started behind schedule in October, but has since been picking up speed.

During their weekly media update last Thursday, state health officials reported that 666,000 doses had been ordered to date, and they are placing additional orders at least once a clay. Wabash

County's allocation ofthatis3,330doses, or enough to vaccinate about 10 percent of the county's residents.

MCS has about 1,500 students. Of those, Hire said that she has consent forms to vaccinate 750-800 students.

"I'm expecting to vaccinate a good half of the students for both the H1N1 and seasonal flu. I know a small handful have gone ahead and gotten the vaccines elsewhere, so that number may change," Hire said.

Between the students who have already had the flu and those who should be protected with the vaccination by the beginning of the year, the odds are looking better that a second w7ave of the HINT influenza may not be as severe as it could have been when the weather turns cold and dry.

At MCS, they are taking extra precautions by cleaning more often.

"We're now disinfecting the buses twice a day, the lunch tables between each group of students, and at the high school, replacing the serving utensils at the salad bar several times during lunch. We're also disinfecting desktops and doorknobs each night," Hire explained.

In other news, the school board approved several personnel changes:

Retirement of Carolyn Heagy as an educational assistant at MIS and the employment of Kim Fierstos to take her place.

Logan Smith as freshman boys' basketball coach and Andrew Wilson as assistant boys' basketball coach at MJSHS.

James Reed as seventh grade boys' basketball coach and Bryan Wellman as eighth grade boys' basketball coach at MJSHS.

Dennis Unger as assistant director for the junior high musical.

Stephanie Hofer as winter guard director/coach and Justin Mann as winter guard co-sponsor at MJSHS.

Copyright 2009 North Manchester News-Journal, North Manchester, Indiana. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 11, 2009

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