Flu hits Anchorage school children

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State health officials say what appears to be a second flu outbreak has sickened Anchorage school children.

An unusually high number of students at Goldenview Middle School called in sick last week, with most complaining of headaches, sore throats, coughs, stuffy noses and fever. The outbreak seemed to reach its peak on April 16 with 140 students calling in sick. On average, about 50 out of 900 students miss school daily at Goldenview.

Chinook Elementary School and Hanshew Middle School also reported high absentee rates, said Janice Bates, director of health services for the Anchorage School District.

While not every sick student has been screened for the flu, the illnesses could be part of a second outbreak this year, state health officials said Tuesday. From the end of October through early January, the state Section of Epidemiology confirmed almost 700 Alaskans had had type A flu.

Then, in early March, state virologist Don Ritter started seeing a trickle of type A and type B flu.

After weeks of quiet on the flu front, ''to have that many is certainly significant,'' said Dr. Beth Funk, a state epidemiologist.

All cases are limited to Anchorage, Ritter said, but the flu may spread. Children ages 10 to 15 have been hardest hit, he said.

Getting an exact count on flu cases is impossible because physicians aren't required to report it to the state. And some people with all the symptoms never get tested.

Ritter, who manages the state's virology lab in Fairbanks, has sent specimens to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out if the influenza B strains are found in this year's flu vaccine. A typical vaccine includes two strains of A and one strain of B, he said.

Ritter says this indeed might be another flu outbreak, but he's not expecting another 700 cases. Neither is Funk.

''I'm putting my guess hat on that we're not going to see anything that's going to parallel what we saw last fall,'' Funk said. ''But, we'll see.''

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