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The flu in Utah
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Educators ask parents to help stop the spread of flu in Utah

(Photo Credit: David Goldman, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY – If they’re sick… keep them at home.  Administrators at the Salt Lake City School District are asking parents to help them stop the spread of the flu virus.  State health workers say this particular virus appears to be hitting school kids harder than previous strains.

If you just look at the number of influenza hospitalizations across the state, this year might not seem much different than others.  The Salt Lake City School District sent out a reminder to parents and kids about what they should do if they become sick, but Spokesman Jason Olsen says that wasn’t because they saw any increase in sick children.

“We’re watching it.  We’re aware of everything that’s happening and we want [students] to be safe and be healthy in our schools,” Olsen says.

(Credit: SLC School District)

The picture sent to families in the district simply said kids should cover their coughs, get vaccinated, wash their hands and stay home when they’re sick.  Olsen acknowledges that last bit of advice may not always be possible.

He says, “We hear stories of students that come to school when they’re still sick.  They have a fever or something else and they probably shouldn’t be there.  However, we also understand there are situations, especially among our low-income families, where the parents have to go to work.”

Officials with the Utah Department of Health say, when it comes to the number of hospitalizations, they’re seeing about what they expected to see.  However, influenza epidemiologist Keegan McCaffrey says if you look past the numbers, you can see a difference.

“The main viruses we’re seeing spreading is Influenza B and Influenza A/H1N1.  Historically, those tend to hit kids harder,” McCaffrey says.

While the elderly still make up most of the flu hospitalizations in Utah, McCaffrey says they’re seeing a lot more kids being admitted than normal.  He says it may be due to school kids not having built up as much immunity to those viruses.  Plus, he says we have another big problem.

“In Utah, our influenza vaccination rates are low, compared to other states,” he says.

(Chart of recent vaccination rates, state by state. Credit: Utah Department of Health.)

A recent report shows there have been 4,800 flu deaths across the country this year, and doctors say it’s one of the worst seasons in recent history.