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Some schools close after spike in illnesses

New concerns about flu in our area.

A couple of schools were closed Friday because there were so many students and teachers out sick.

A letter sent home to parents at Stanley Clark School Thursday says students and teachers had the flu, strep throat and respiratory infections.

The letter says there were "approximately 50 students and teachers out as of this morning. Some grade levels have approximately a 35% absentee rate and our substitute teachers are now ill and unavailable as well."

The Benton Harbor Charter Academy was also closed Friday because of illness.

Doctors say they're seeing patients everyday with flu-like symptoms, but that's normal for this time of year.

They say it's not uncommon for schools to close if illness causes low attendance rates.

Dr. Rina Patel treats South Bend School Corporation employees at Activate Healthcare in South Bend and says seven people tested positive for flu in just one day.

"We ran out of our influenza testing kits, which we normally don't do and we had to order it," Dr. Patel said.

250 positive influenza cases have been reported to the St. Joseph County Health Department since October.

Dr. Davis Bertoncini with the South Bend Clinic says the trend is similar to years past.

"It usually only comes for two or three weeks in the winter and we've had it for about two weeks here in South Bend," Dr. Bertoncini said.

The same is happening nationally.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, influenza is widespread across most of the country.

"Usually it almost always comes in a big burst of cases," Dr. Bertoncini said. "The last two weeks or so we've been seeing people coming in everyday with a fever, achy and a bad cough."

This is the first time in ten years the nasal flu vaccine isn't available.

"The flu vaccine last year wasn't very effective, just about 20% effectiveness last year which is surprisingly low," Dr. Bertoncini said. "Every five or ten years there's a season or year where the flu shot doesn't work very well, but we're having a good response this year which is about 50% effectiveness, which is usually the best we could hope for."

Doctors say it's important to wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.

They also recommend getting a flu shot.

"Even if they're sick, it's less severe and they're able to maintain their job and not have to take weeks off the job," Dr. Patel said. "Maybe just a couple of days off the job."

The Berrien County Health Department says schools are required to report anytime a student contracts a communicable disease.

A spokesperson says this week had the most reported flu cases so far this season.

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