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Flu finds its way to District 833

Royal Oaks Elementary health assistant, Linda Daly, checks kindergartner Connor Loney for signs of the "influenza-like illness" currently in the school.

The flu has found its way into Royal Oaks Elementary -- as of last week 10 percent of the school's 600 plus students are out with an "influenza-like illness," according to school officials.

Royal Oaks reported to the Minnesota Department of Health on Oct. 7 as is required when a school has more than five percent of their student population out sick. Several teachers are also out sick.

None of the illnesses have been confirmed to be H1N1, said Royal Oaks principal Theresa Blume-Thole.

Having a high number of students out with an "influenza-like illness" this time of the year is nothing out of the ordinary, Blume-Thole said.

"This is just a normal flu season for us -- we go through this every year -- it's just more apparent this year," she said.

Linda Daly, health assistant at Royal Oaks, said even though having a large number of students out with the flu isn't uncommon, she said this wave of absences is a little bit early and the numbers are higher than normal this year.

One thing that is a bit out of the ordinary for Royals Oaks is that the flu has hit some of the classrooms so dramatically, Blume-Thole said. One second grade classroom had only six students.

"When you're in a classroom, in close quarters, diseases are going to spread," she said.

Daly said they have been receiving many phone calls from concerned parents regarding the high numbers and having to report to the Department of Health.

"Parents are calling with lots of questions," she said. "Parents are concerned because they don't want to have their kids out sick."

The staff at Royal Oaks has been working hard to try and combat the spread of the disease by sanitizing classrooms and table tops multiple times a day.

"My hands are chapped from scrubbing," Daly said.

Additionally, Royal Oaks has been encouraging kids to constantly wash their hands and cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough.

Flu season in District 833

Royal Oaks isn't the only District 833 school that has reported to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) with more than 5 percent of students out with an "influenza-like illness."

Nine additional District 833 schools have reported to the MDH -- Bailey Elementary, Woodbury Middle School, Armstrong Elementary, Grey Cloud Elementary, Cottage Grove Elementary, Hillside Elementary, Oltman Middle School and Cottage Grove Middle School.

District 833 director of communications, Barb Brown, said the district has been working closely with the MDH to educate families about the flu and the predicted H1N1spread. And MDH officials said schools have been doing a good job getting the message out to families.

"We really want to make sure kids are out of school so we catch as much as we can," said MDH spokesman Doug Schultz. "We have to walk a fine line between not wanting to cause a panic but making sure people are concerned enough."

Schultz said 124 schools throughout Minnesota have reported within the last week to the MDH.

The majority, 90-plus percent, of the "influenza-like illnesses" out there right now are most likely the H1N1 virus, Schultz said.

Schultz said that it is difficult to distinguish between seasonal flu and H1N1 because the symptoms are so similar, but two unique symptoms to H1N1 include vomiting and diarrhea.

The H1N1 vaccine is scheduled to be available between the end of October and early November. Washington County has been working with schools to develop a plan of distributing the vaccine to students -- whether that be at their medical home or at alternate locations.

"There's concern obviously about H1N1, but people are listening to the message," said Washington County H1N1 coordinator Connie Waldera.

For more information about H1N1 and precautions to take, visit either the District 833 website, the Washington County website or the Minnesota Department of Health website.

Kispert can be reached at

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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