Damon Raines

Walker County Public Schools saw a spike in the number of sick students and staff, forcing the schools to close their doors for two consecutive days, Thursday and Friday, Feb. 9-10.

Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines said the school system monitors student absences during the cold and flu season each year, and absences began to spike around Feb. 2.

"The largest numbers were at the high schools," Raines said. "The numbers were constant on Monday (Feb. 6). However, Tuesday and Wednesday’s numbers spiked again both with students and adult employees."

On Tuesday there were 916 students absent, with 272 more checking out sometime during that school day, Raines said.

The next day student absences climbed to 978, with 335 more students being check out during the school day, Raines said.

"We also had over 80 teachers out sick, not counting the ones who remained at school due to not being able to find a substitute for their classroom. Pair that with the 15 drivers out sick and the 18 others driving while sick that same day," Raines said.

Raines said the decision to close school for the rest of the week was based on a lack of teachers in the classrooms, as well as the difficulty of providing adequate and efficient coverage on bus routes for both the morning and afternoon.

"Our goal was to separate for consecutive days in an effort for proper care and wellness for those who were sick and to keep others from becoming susceptible to any of the three illnesses we were currently battling," Raines said.

Not too late to get flu shot

According to Dr. Brian Daily of CHI Memorial Professional Park Associates in LaFayette, it is not too late to get the flu shot and encourages anyone to get it if they have not yet done so.

The "dead flu" in the shot is often misunderstood as the flu shot giving someone the flu, but Daily said if you get the flu right after getting the shot, you had the flu already.

Daily encourages residents to drink plenty of fluids, including Vitamin C, isolate yourself, especially if running a fever with the flu, take Ibuprofen or Tylenol, and ride it out, as that is the only way to get through it.

Daily said drugs like Tamiflu can cause even worse side-effects, so the only cure is to ride out the flu virus.

Daily encourages everyone to wash their hands and be careful touching objects in public or around those who are sick, because the flu virus spreads from liquids and is not airborne, so if someone coughs into the hand and touches an object, someone can touch that object and become infected.

If someone has a fever, he or she should wear a mask, he said.

Daily said the flu shot would offer protection from the flu typically in 7-14 days.

Daily said he has never heard of schools closing from the flu and he feels students, faculty, etc, will still be affected by the flu in the coming week.

"This is a particularly nasty flu season," Daily said.

Along with all of the school closings in Walker County, Tennessee is reporting 15 school systems closed as well.

Daily said the flu can prove deadly for those with weak immune systems like the very young, elderly, people with conditions like COPD, but this flu is affecting healthy children and adults and that is alarming.

Josh O'Bryant is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He can be reached at the Walker County Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at jobryant@npco.com.