Illness causes increase in student absences

By Emily Khaykin and Alex Leichenger


Nearly 20 percent of the upper school student body was absent Friday, Oct. 9. Some were absent because of recruiting trips or other commitments, but a significant number of the students called in sick with the flu.


There is no evidence of a Swine Flu epidemic, but an outbreak of respiratory problems and other flu-like symptoms kept over 100 students home from each day from Thursday Oct. 8 to Monday Oct. 12, including 165 on Friday.


“There are definitely more [absent] people than usual,” Attendance Coordinator Gabriel Preciado said.


Preciado keeps track of the attendance numbers every year, looking at the percent increase per year in absences due to illness.


“I think that parents are being more proactive this year than others in taking care of [the flu], keeping their kids at home,” Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra said in response to the recorded increase in overall absence numbers for the year.


The extra precautions being taken by parents could be due to fear of the H1N1 virus, also known as Swine flu, Salamandra said.


According to flu.gov, a government website which provides people with information on “what to do about the flu,” five to 20 percent of people in the United States, on average, contract the flu every year.


According to an e-mail sent to parents, one middle school student was ill with H1N1.


Since the emergence of the H1N1 strain, the school has been taking precautionary measures to try to prevent the spread of illness.


Hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed throughout both campuses.


Director of Sports Medicine Sandee Teruya created a poll in the trainers’ office late last month asking students which brand of hand sanitizer, Germstar or Purell, should be put in all of the bathrooms.


Since then, Purell has been installed in all of the campus bathrooms.


Teruya spends her time keeping up to date on the latest information about the flu, the potential availability of inoculations from the Centers for Disease Control and any other information that Harvard-Westlake parents in the medical field provide.


Every fall, the school places an order to the CDC, asking for vaccines to provide to the faculty, and as of this year, students.


“I ask them how the vaccine is getting to the school, when the school will be receiving it, and general information on how to keep students safe and healthy,” Teruya said.


The inoculations are part of the school’s “Health Fair,” a morning-long event during the fall, where the school offers all faculty members the chance to get health screens and the yearly flu vaccine.


“For as long as I can remember we’ve been supplying inoculations to the faculty in the fall,” Salamandra, said.


“People are afraid that they’ll fall behind,” Salamandra said. “And honestly, the faculty is just as bad as the students when it comes to taking care of themselves when they’re sick.”

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