How Flossmoor District 161 fights the flu

Deep in the throes of flu season, Flossmoor School District 161 staff members remain vigilant, equipped with information and whole lot of antibacterial cleaner.


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When widespread illness is detected in a classroom or building, Superintendent Dana Smith said the custodial staff uses a cleaner called TB-Cide Quat to sanitize desks, door handles, light switches, bathrooms — anything students touch.


“We don’t use it all the time, but it’s appropriate for schools,” Smith said. “That’s generally the disinfectant we use in cases when we really need to make sure environment is sanitary.”


The cleaner was used in mid-January when dozens of Serena Hills Elementary School students were absent due to gastrointestinal symptoms. At least 45 to 60 students were absent in one week, complaining of vomiting and diarrhea.


“That’s a pretty big number for that size of a building,” Smith said during a Jan. 26 interview. “We got into the building over the weekend and cleaned really well.”


Then, because they know many Serena Hills students have siblings at Parker Junior High, the custodial staff deep-cleaned that building, as well. It’s all part of the district’s efforts to stay ahead of illness during the winter season.


District nurse Kathy Kanawa said she works with the school nurses at each building to keep track of student sickness as closely as possible. It’s part of their role within the public health realm, she said.


“We track what (illnesses) students are calling in with and what we’re seeing in the health office. We start doing that prior to any flu season,” Kanawa said. 


If nurses notice a spike in illnesses, Kanawa notifies the Illinois Department of Public Health. The agency helps guide the district through a plan of notifying parents and sanitizing the schools.


Kanawa said the district keeps data to track illness trends to help know what to expect. When several kids are sick, she works with school nurses to gather as much information as possible about what happened.


“When I see an increase in vomiting and diarrhea, I look at whether it was one classroom, one grade, part of the school or the whole school. Was it right after they ate lunch or was it in the morning?” she said. “We do some investigating to put that puzzle together.”


Teachers and staff are encouraged to share their diagnoses or symptoms when calling in sick, which offers another piece to the puzzle, Kanawa said. A person might feel shy about sharing, but these details add to the larger picture of the district’s health.


While the country has been experiencing high levels of influenza this year, Kanawa said that’s not bearing out in the district. 


“We’re hearing more of that in the news than we’re seeing here,” Kanawa said.


Of course, she’s staying on high alert until spring

Health tips to consider from District 161 nurse Kathy Kanawa

●     Influenza does not cause vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches and fatigue. If children are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, they have a stomach virus.
●     Report your child’s absence and accurate details about his or her illness.

●     Remember that some children are immune-compromised and could face serious health consequences if they catch influenza or another serious illness. Do not send your child to school sick.

●     If children experience vomiting or diarrhea, they cannot return to school until 24 hours after symptoms subside.

●     Children with fever should be off fever medication for 24 hours before returning to school.

●     Regular hand-washing is still the single most important thing you can do to prevent spreading illness.

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