Wiregrass schools see dramatic drop in H1N1 absences

Posted by: Melissa Johnson - bio | email

Houston County, AL (WSFA) - State health officials say Alabama's H1N1 flu season may have already peaked by the time the vaccine becomes available.

In fact, school systems are already starting to see a dramatic decrease in the amount of absences from the virus.

Just a couple weeks ago, Houston County Schools reported one of the highest absentee rates in the state, but school leaders say, there good news.

Rehobeth High School Senior, Summer Shipes, says she's one of the many who came down with the flu.

After missing nearly a week of school thanks to H1N1, she say, playing catch up wasn't easy.

"It was hard," she says, "trying to write papers, trying to do pre-cal, trying to do all this other stuff, and making up everything."

And she wasn't alone.  She said, "Some days you'd walk into a classroom, and there'd only be 5 students in there, and we have a class of 30."

But now, things have changed.  Back in August, attendance at some Houston County Schools had dropped to 85%.  Now, those numbers are returning to normal.

Superintendent Tim Ptchford said their attendance county-wide is back up to about 96%.

And now that students are back in the classrooms, school leaders say teachers can breathe a sigh of relief.

Pitchford said, "They have less make-up work and less tests they have to re-teach and re-give.  So the teachers are thankful that their students are back and they can have a more structured class."

The decline in flu cases is also evident at local pharmacies.

Walgreen's Pharmacy Manager Tracey Streepy said, "It has really slowed down.  Our prescriptions for Tami-Flu have also decreased."

But pharmacists say they're still seeing a high demand for the seasonal flu vaccine.

Streepy said they've already given out one-million flu shots since September 1st.  Almost surpassing last year's numbers for the entire season, which runs from September to March.

It's unclear whether pharmacies will offer the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available, but the Houston County School System will.

Pitchford says the plan right now is to receive them late October, or early November.  He said there will be vaccinations provided for students in the schools itself, with parental permission.

But by then, the hope is the virus will have already run its course.

The State Health Department recommends all children who are healthy receive the vaccine.