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Illnesses increase across Medford schools

The number of students with flu symptoms in the Medford School District nearly has doubled since last week, and one student in the Central Point School District has been hospitalized for the flu, according to school district counts.

On Wednesday, about 500 students, or about 4 percent of the Medford district's overall student body, were out sick with flu symptoms compared to 275 last week, the report stated.

It's unclear whether any of the cases are part of the H1N1 virus, a new strain of influenza that federal, state and local officials have been monitoring closely.

None of the Medford district cases are known to have required hospitalization, said Tania

(the spelling of this name has been corrected) Tong, Medford district student services supervisor.

One student at Crater High School in the neighboring school district of Central Point has been hospitalized for flu symptoms.

Still, the flu rate is at about 2 percent of the Central Point district's 4,600 pupils, said Bob Bowers, schools human resources director.

"It looks like we are in the normal range of a regular flu season," Bowers said.

Rates of students with flu were elevated at particular campuses.

At Hedrick Middle School in east Medford, nearly 17 percent of the school's nearly 900 pupils had flu symptoms Wednesday.

"Absolutely, it's disruptive depending on how many students are out in any one given class," said Hedrick Principal Paul Cataldo. "We are doing the best we can. We are trying to communicate as best we can with students and parents on how to make up their work."

Cataldo said parents can obtain make-up work on the school district's online Parent Access Link or at the front office.

"Some teachers are re-teaching some concepts, particularly in math, if they've had a lot of absences in their class," Cataldo said.

School districts have been counting the number of students out sick with flu symptoms each Wednesday and reporting that information to the Southern Oregon Education Service District. The ESD passes it on to Jackson County Health and Human Services as part of the effort to monitor the new influenza strain.

Vaccinations are expected to be shipped out to states next month.

Counts of students with flu symptoms from other school districts in Jackson County were not immediately available Friday.

Nationwide, visits to doctors for influenza-like symptoms are higher than expected for this time of year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first round of a vaccine for the virus is scheduled to be distributed later this month.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Symptoms can develop over the course of several hours, or overnight.

School officials have asked parents to keep sick children at home.

Those who come to school and have a temperature of 100 degrees or more are automatically sent home, Tong said.

In addition, schools have upped the amount of times surfaces are disinfected and supplied campuses with hand sanitizers, Tong said.

Last week, the district office also sent out messages to schools encouraging them to stop the use of communal supplies such as crayons and pencils, a common practice at elementary schools in Medford as well as neighboring districts such as Central Point.

It's unclear how many schools have stopped the practice.

Kristin Daniels, mother of a fifth-grader at Medford's Griffin Creek Elementary School, said this was the first year her son has been allowed to have his own school supplies. Kindergarten through fourth grades at Griffin Creek have in the past shared supplies, Daniels said.

"Personally, I don't think community supplies is a good idea because if you have one that is starting to get sick, they're handling something and then put it in a basket for other kids to grab," Daniels said. "It spreads germs."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.