Stomach flu has hit Rim Country Middle School (RCMS) and Payson High School (PHS) hard since the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We saw quite a few sick ones today,” said Yvette Harpe, vice principal at RCMS.
RCMS school officials reported 33 students out because of the stomach flu.
At the high school, 25 left for home on Thursday, versus 114 for the whole month of November.
School policy dictates if a student has a fever of 100 degrees or is vomiting, someone from home must pick up the student for the day, said Dani Hatch, school nurse for PHS.
“There have been more sick kids since the Thanksgiving holiday. Maybe they picked up something while on vacation,” said Hatch.
Hatch notices that when students come back from holiday, the level of illnesses increases. She believes that on Thanksgiving in particular, families travel and spend more time together in one place than during other school breaks. Illness gets passed around easier, especially if families travel on planes.
“Nothing is worse than an enclosed area of a plane,” said Lucinda Campbell, nurse for the Gila County Health Department.
Campbell explained that the stomach flu is not caused by the influenza flu.
Influenza causes fevers of up to 104, body aches and breathing problems that send sufferers straight to bed.
She cautioned that if anyone has a fever of 103 or 104 they should see a doctor immediately.
“Seizures show up with high fevers,” said Campbell.
The illness currently making the rounds at school sounds like a gastro-intestinal infection, she said, which often lacks an accompanying fever.
Viruses that cause stomach ailments can lie dormant for weeks on surfaces everyone touches: doorknobs, backs of chairs, and desks.
Good hygiene is the best method of controlling the stomach bug, said Campbell.
The flu season does not start until February or March, said Campbell.
She remembers one day this past March when she started getting a lot of calls about the flu.
She decided to call all of the school nurses and discovered 596 kids from the Payson Unified School District were out due to the flu. That amounted to a full one-quarter of the student body.
Despite the uptick in school absences, Campbell has not heard of any trend in the community with this particular illness.
If parents are interested, the County Health Department offers free flu vaccinations for all children under the age of 19. Adults 19 to 65 pay $30. Seniors 65 and older are free with Medicare Part B.
The health department is open for shots from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Call before to verify a nurse is on duty: 928-474-1210.
The county health department is located across from the post office at 107 W. Frontier St.