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Flu-related student absences spike in Ashland

The number of Ashland students with H1N1 flu symptoms nearly doubled in the seven days ending Thursday.

According to attendance records, 7 percent of students in the district — 218 students — missed school due to flu symptoms between Friday and Thursday. That's 86 percent more than in the previous seven days.

The district saw 185 new cases between Friday and Thursday.

District officials are studying the data carefully but haven't decided to change school operations, said Samuel Bogdanov, the district's director of student services.

"We are definitely keeping an eye on the numbers," he said. "We're certainly not alarmed yet, but we are following them closely." Ashland Middle and John Muir Elementary schools, which share the same campus, had the largest increases in absences due to flu symptoms.

At the middle school, 74 students were absent — 15 percent of the student body. At John Muir, 14 were absent — 17 percent of the student body.

A significant number of students were also out sick with flu symptoms at Ashland High and Walker Elementary schools.

At the high school, 48 new cases were reported, and 5 percent of the student body was absent due to flu symptoms.

At Walker — which before Thursday had reported the greatest number of students absent due to flu symptoms in the district — 11 percent of the student body was absent due to flu symptoms.

This year attendance secretaries at Ashland public schools are recording when students are absent due to flu symptoms.

The students may or may not have the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, but district officials are treating students with temperatures above 100 degrees and other flu symptoms as though they have the illness — giving them masks and sending them home.

The attendance data is passed on to district administrators who compile it and send it to Jackson County Health and Human Services, which could decide to close schools or take other actions to stop the spread of the virus.

The health department decided to close Prospect School in remote northeastern Jackson County Sept. 29 through Oct. 2, after 30 percent of the students and teachers reported flu symptoms.

It's unlikely that Ashland schools will be closed as a result of the recent spike in reported flu symptoms, said Bogdanov, who compiles the weekly data.

County health officials should have received the Ashland report by Friday morning, he said.

"If they're concerned, they'll call and notify us," he said. Until then we're just trying to keep washing hands and covering coughs."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226, or hguzik@dailytidings.com.