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Student absences spike at LAMS

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State officials keeping an eye on the numbers

By Carol A. Clark

School officials continue to keep a watchful eye on the increasing number of students being sent home from Los Alamos Middle School with flu-like symptoms.

Monday the school received 75 additional calls to its absence line.

“We’re determining which of those calls were flu-related and which were for other reasons including wrong numbers,” said John Wolfe, Los Alamos Public Schools business manager this morning. “We want to make everyone aware of the situation and the fact that we are closely monitoring it and will continue to do so throughout the course.”

The superintendent’s office discussed the increasing number of absences this morning with LAMS Principal Donna Grim who’s been in contact with the state, Wolfe said.

The state is monitoring the situation as well, he said, adding that Grim is expecting to receive guidance from the state.

Wolfe also spoke with Dr. Shelley Schoonover of the Los Alamos Children’s Clinic.

“Dr. Schoonover said the Children’s Clinic is seeing students with flu symptoms come in from the middle school,” Wolfe said.

Communications Director Deborah Busemeyer from the New Mexico Epidemiology Office said this morning her office has been in touch with LAMS’ school nurse.

“This is not a surprise because H1N1 has been spreading throughout New Mexico,” she said.

The state office is doing H1N1 testing to determine if the virus is at the middle school, Busemeyer said and expects results will be available by the end of this week.

Busemeyer explained that her office stopped confirming all H1N1 cases in May. At that time there had been more than 100 cases statewide, she said.

One death has been attributed to the H1N1 virus and involved a Sierra County woman with a pre-existing medical condition, which put her at high risk.

“School nurses routinely report illnesses to our office,” Busemeyer said. “What’s important is knowing the severity and we’re concerned with hospitalized numbers and we’re involved with clusters.”

The state epidemiology office hasn’t seen flu clusters like they are currently seeing at LAMS, which is why they’re monitoring the situation, she said.

The district first started noticing an increase in flu-related illness at LAMS late last week.

The school nurse sent three students home with flu-like symptoms on Wednesday, six children home Thursday and nine students home Friday.

Also, 30 students stayed home from school Friday and the school is in the process of determining the nature of those illnesses.

Two teachers are currently absent with the flu as well, Wolfe said this morning. He also said there is no plan at this time to close down the school.

Click here for the latest from district officials.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or 505-662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.