MHS lingers beneath flu “radar”


Attendance secretary Cheryl Anders sorts through attendance files in her office. Flu season has hit “a little bit harder” than last year, according to Anders. Photo by Jake Dziubla

By Jake Dziubla, online editor-in-chief

Sneezes, wheezes and sniffles. This trio of bodily sounds fills the hallways of Middletown High School. Empty swaths of seats can be seen in many classrooms; some classes of close to 30 students have been decimated by illness, with upwards of close to 10 students absent at a time. It appears that the flu, among other bugs, has made MHS their temporary home for the winter.

Fortunately, MHS has “not been on the radar” of Christa Williams, health specialist for Frederick County Public Schools. Williams noted that there have been no confirmed cases of the new Australian norovirus strand at FCPS schools, and that the 2013 flu season has been “typical” for MHS and the rest of the county.

Williams, who has been a health specialist at FCPS for four and a half years, says that it’s difficult to type the illnesses of students without a culture. Students are not diagnosed at schools; their symptoms are classified and reviewed by health specialists such as Williams.

 According to Williams, no schools in Frederick County have been below the 10 percent attendance threshold the past week. Once a school falls below 90 percent attendance, the health department is notified.

“We aren’t seeing a pattern in health rooms that would indicate an issue with attendance,” said Williams. “There’s nothing really going on.”

MHS’s attendance rate has consistently been in the mid-90s since Jan. 17, dipping to 91.74 percent only once. When the H1N1 virus struck in 2009, many FCPS schools fell below the 10 percent threshold; MHS attendance during the outbreak fell to a nadir of the high 80s. To Cheryl Anders, an attendance secretary at MHS for over 10 years, it isn’t surprising that MHS attendance hasn’t dipped below the threshold since.

“Compared to other schools, attendance rate during the flu season is generally high [at MHS],” she said.

However, Anders says that this year’s flu season has “hit a little bit harder” this year than previous years. According to Anders, most ill students are out for at least three days, depending on the type of illness.

Anders, a parent of five children, is a “firm believer in bleach and Lysol to clean things,” in addition to common sense and healthy hygiene.

To parents and students that she knows well, Anders has been spreading her advice. With tidbits, short discussions and general words of advice, Anders hopes her precautions make a difference in how parents and students approach their illness in the future.

“Bleach everything,” said a laughing Anders, remarking on the importance of bleach and sanitization.

According to an article by the New York Times, flu rates have peaked, except for areas west. Weekly recorded deaths from the flu and pneumonia are still on the rise, striking mainly the young and the old. The article notes that the death rates are less than the H1N1 outbreak, but similar to the 2003-2004 outbreak.

The flu season generally ends around March, meaning that MHS will have to endure at least another month of sneezes, wheezes, and sniffles. With staff like Anders, hopefully, the season ends sooner, rather than later.