More than one-fourth of the children at a Lakeville elementary school were out sick with flu symptoms Monday as the absentee rate soared from 7 percent Friday to 28 percent yesterday, school officials reported.
Eastview Elementary had 175 reported absences in a student body of 615, Principal Dick Oscarson said. In five cases, parents called the school to say that their children had confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, also called swine flu.
Lakeville school officials did not plan to cancel classes at Eastview as of Monday afternoon, said Linda Swanson, district spokeswoman. The district has reported the outbreak to the state Health Department and will follow recommended guidelines for dealing with swine flu, she said.
State health officials say they have no way of knowing how unusual Eastview's situation is. So far, 67 Minnesota schools have reported outbreaks of flu-like illness, a figure that has doubled in less than a week. But schools don't have to disclose exactly how many students are out sick once they exceed 5 percent of the student body, said Buddy Ferguson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health.
"We don't ask them to report in after that," he said. "We're doing this to track how widespread influenza-like illness is, and it's pretty widespread."
Ferguson said it is up to local officials to decide when, or whether, to close a school. "If it reaches a certain point, a school could conclude that they have so many people out, staff and students, that it's not worthwhile to keep the school open," he said. That has happened occasionally in previous flu outbreaks, Feguson said, but he is not aware of any that have reached that point this year.
In addition to getting word when schools cross the 5-percent threshold, state health officials want to know when three or more children in the same elementary class have symptoms of flu, defined as a fever of more than 100 degrees and a cough or sore throat.
Eastview sent an e-mail alert and called parents using an automated phone message system Monday evening. At school, teachers reminded students to wash their hands and cough into their sleeves, and told kids to speak up if they felt sick.
"We kept it somewhat low key," so as not to alarm students, Oscarson said.
Only two out of 70 or so staff members at Eastview called in sick Monday with flu symptoms, he added.
Fourth-grader Adam Hobbs' teacher e-mailed families to say only seven kids showed up, his mother said. Adam himself spent the day at home with a fever of up to 102 degrees.
"I'm not too anxious about it," said Tami Hobbs, who added she was relieved when officials began reporting that the global pandemic was not as severe as initially feared.
As of Monday, 279 Minnesotans have been hospitalized with confirmed cases of H1N1 since the outbreak began in April. But most cases are mild, and Oscarson said he did not believe any Eastview students had been hospitalized.
Health officials are advising parents to keep students with the flu home until they have been fever-free for 24 hours, without the aid of fever-reducing medications. They say recovery will take five to seven days for most kids.