Flu surge closes schools, fills hospital beds

‘We’re still on an upswing,’ local doctor says.

A surge of flu-like illness in the region had led to an increase in hospitalizations and resulted in some schools having to close their doors because of the number of students who are sick.

All Milton-Union schools were closed Friday, a day after 250 students were out sick Thursday. The district has fewer than 1,500 students.

“We encourage and expect meaningful work … but we had classrooms where they were missing so many students that it was difficult to move ahead,” Superintendent Brad Ritchey said. “We felt this was the best opportunity for the kids to have a chance to rest up, get healthy over the weekend and come back Monday ready to go.”

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Dr. Sherman Alter, director of infectious diseases at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said flu season is still on the upswing locally fairly late in the season, alongside many cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

“Using hospitalizations as a measure of how ill you are, it’s a pretty bad season for flu,” Alter said.

Montgomery County ranks 14th of Ohio’s 88 counties for the rate of flu-related hospitalizations since October, according to the state’s disease reporting system. All but one of the other high-ranked counties are in northern and eastern Ohio. Montgomery County has had more people hospitalized (144) than in much-larger Hamilton (69) and Franklin counties (127).

Of other area counties, Clark ranked 33rd, Miami 37th, Butler 49th and Champaign 52nd. Warren County was toward the bottom of the list with about 7 hospitalizations per 100,000 population.

“What concerns me is that we’re still on an upswing,” Alter said. “It’s hard to predict, but I think we could see more. I think the school closings indicate how bad it is. … RSV and influenza can easily be spread, especially in close contact at schools, where the kids are all together.”

Milton-Union staff did a “once-a-year-level” deep-cleaning work at all schools Friday, said Ritchey. He said weekend sports and other events at the schools will go on, since the buildings will have been thoroughly sanitized.

Milton-Union parents were on social media Friday discussing how sickness has been making the rounds of the community. Dawn Moore, whose son attends school in the district, said she’s heard of many kids with headaches and stomach problems.

“I don’t remember ever — and I went to school here — school being closed for sickness,” Moore said. “I just want to make sure they all get healthy. We all need our education.”

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Milton-Union is not the only school affected by the surge in illnesses. St. Helen School in Riverside closed both Thursday and Friday “due to the large number of students and staff who are ill,” said Principal Christine Buschur. On Feb. 3, the Miami Valley Academies charter school closed due to illness.

The Ohio Department of Health reports there were 2,075 total flu-associated hospitalizations in Ohio from Oct. 2 through Feb. 4, including three child flu-related deaths. All three deaths were northern Ohio children ages 6 and 7.

Flu season generally continues until May, and it appears to be spiking comparatively late this year. Last flu season, Ohio had 3,633 total flu-associated hospitalizations, with one pediatric death. Two years ago, the numbers were 9,374 hospitalizations and six pediatric deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said flu activity increased nationwide last week and is now “widespread” in 43 states. There have been 20 flu-related child deaths nationally this season. Multiple schools in Tennessee, plus a few in Kentucky and Texas, have closed due to illness in recent days.

Dayton Children’s spokeswoman Stacy Porter said the hospital had 148 admitted patients Friday, nearing their capacity of 155 beds. On Thursday, there were 322 emergency department visits for all causes, which Alter called “a big number.”

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Staff Writer Randy Tucker contributed to this report.

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