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Far fewer students absent due to H1N1 symptoms

The number of Ashland students absent with H1N1 virus symptoms plummeted 82 percent in the past seven days, according to a district report released Thursday.

The steep decrease in flu cases was likely due to the three days students had off for parent-teacher conferences, said Samuel Bogdanove, the district's director of student services.

"I think that it really helped to have three conference days and a weekend to give kids time to rest and get healthy," he said this morning. "We're hopeful that the worst is over."

During the seven days ending Thursday, 67 students were absent due to flu symptoms — down from 366 in the previous week, according to attendance records.

The decline in total absences was also due to fewer days in school to count heads. No absences were recorded on the days of the conferences — Thursday, Friday and Monday — because students were not required to come to school on those days.

But even taking the days off into account, the H1N1 virus seemed to be on the wane. The district saw 42 new flu cases in the past seven days. The previous week, there were 239 new cases.

Attendance secretaries are recording when students are absent due to flu symptoms. Because it is too early in the year for much seasonal influenza to be circulating, health officials are assuming that anyone with flu symptoms likely has the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, Bogdanove said.

The number of flu cases in Ashland schools peaked in the seven days ending Oct. 15, when 386 students were absent with H1N1 symptoms.

It's unclear if the worst of the flu absences are over for the district, Bogdanove said.

"Obviously we're still going to continue to watch it closely because it's still very much here in Southern Oregon and across the country," he said.

The district should receive the H1N1 vaccine the week of Nov. 8, at which time it will be available to students and at-risk staff members.

In the past seven days, the number of flu cases decreased — in most cases dramatically — at all schools except Willow Wind Community Learning Center, which was the only district school that didn't give students three days off for parent-teacher conferences, Bogdanove said.

Willow Wind saw 22 students, or 10 percent of its student body, out sick with flu-related symptoms. Last week, the alternative elementary school, which caters to home-schooled students, reported 20 absences due to H1N1 symptoms.

About 4 percent of the student body at Helman Elementary School was absent due to flu symptoms in the past seven days. All other district schools saw no more than 2 percent of their student bodies absent because of H1N1 symptoms.

District officials are continuing to monitor absences and are reminding students to take health precautions to avoid getting the virus, Bogdanove said.

"I think we have to continue to be vigilant really throughout the flu season, which extends into the winter," he said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.