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School nurse wages 1-woman war on virus

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Every time Kim Woodrow sees a student cough or sneeze into their hand, she has a stern warning for them.

“I'm a ‘germaphobe,' ” said Woodrow, nurse at Highlands High School and head of the Highlands School District Health Service Department. “I always tell students cough into your elbow.”

Woodrow's preaching of proper hygiene might be why the school district has yet to see a significant spike in reported cases of the flu.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, more than 1,300 cases of the flu have been reported in the Alle-Kiski Valley's four counties.

This week, 18 people in the state died from the flu, bringing the number to 22 since October, according to the state Health Department.

Almost 500 people statewide were hospitalized because of the flu last week.

Yet, Highlands has seen very few students come down with the actual flu.

“You always hear students say ‘I think I have the flu,'” Woodrow said. “But, we've really only seen a few students that have presented flu-like symptoms since we came back from winter break.

“When kids have a fever, are achy, and are really tired and just dragging — that's when you know they might have more than just a bad cold.”

Woodrow said that Highlands is seeing fewer cases of the flu because the district administers flu shots to students whose parents allow them to be immunized.

“A majority of the kids in our district get a flu shot,” she said. “We had record participation numbers this year.”

Mazur said the flu shot is only about 60 percent effective, but those who get a shot and do catch the flu are more likely to experience minimal symptoms.

Highlands isn't the only Alle-Kiski Valley school district to see a small number of flu cases.

“Our attendance numbers are as normal as usual,” said Bonnie Berzonski, a spokeswoman for the Fox Chapel Area School District. “The flu hasn't caused any problems in Fox Chapel as of yet.”

Berzonski said that her district doesn't offer in school immunizations for students, like Highlands.

Elderly at risk

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the elderly are more susceptible to being killed by the flu virus.

The state health department said that 16 of last week's 18 deaths were people over the age of 65.

Kathy Mazur, the director of the Alle-Kiski Valley Senior Center, said the center's attendance hasn't been greatly affected by the flu.

“Where we've been hit the hardest is with some of our older volunteers,” she said. “Four of them have come down with the flu, and two of them ended up having to be hospitalized because of it.”

Mazur said the center brings in health experts to educate its patrons about how to best avoid the flu.

“We really stress that flu has a greater effect on seniors than most,” she said.

Prevent the spread

While she always preaches the “cough-and-sneeze-in-your-elbow method” to her students, Highlands' Woodrow said there are other steps can take to protect themselves against the flu and keep it from spreading. “Wash your hands all the time,” Woodrow said. “And make sure you wipe down surfaces, that are always touched, with disinfectant.

“It's going to be on surfaces,” she said. “Wiping them down will really help keep it out of your body.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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