By Graham Sweeney
While medical facilities across Shelby County are currently admitting an uncommonly high number of patients with flu-like symptoms, officials with Shelby County Schools have reported that the number of student absences in recent weeks is comparable to years past.
The Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare system, which includes five adult and one children’s hospital in the Mid-South, recorded 1,101 discharges with influenza diagnosis in December, up from 130 in November.
Vickye Hester, communications specialist with Methodist Le Bonheur, said the number of flu-related cases in Methodist’s minor medical centers has “surged since last year.”
In December 2011, the local centers admitted 585 patients diagnosed with influenza. In December 2012, that number more than doubled to 1,118 patients.
Derek Venckus, public relations and marketing coordinator with Saint Francis Hospital-Bartlett, also said he has seen a jump in flu-related patients.
“We currently have four patients hospitalized as a result of the flu,” he said, “which is a very rare occurrence.”
Venckus said a recent five-day period saw 17 patients diagnosed with the flu in the hospital’s emergency room.
“That is higher than we typically see,” he said.
While cases of influenza vaccine shortages have been reported throughout the country, Venckus said none of the Saint Francis Medical Partners locations have experienced vaccine insufficiencies.
Shawn Pachucki, communications specialist for Shelby County Schools, said the number of students dismissed with flu-like symptoms is hard to gauge within the school system.
“The number of flu-related cases cannot be accurately tracked in schools,” he said, “because parents do not always indicate a specific type of illness for their child’s absence.”
Pachucki further noted that the number of “overall” student absences within the district is “not out of ordinary balance…compared to this time in past years.”
In order to prevent future outbreaks, Pachucki said Shelby County Schools is warning students and faculty members with a fever of 100 degrees or higher to remain out of school.
Last week, custodians within the school system were also given a more stringent protocol for flu prevention.