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A large number of absences for students with flu-like symptoms prompted the Russellville School District to cancel classes today.

School district spokesman Ashley Snellenberger said an average of about 16 percent of the district's more than 5,200 students have been absent this week. The normal absentee rate is 5 percent to 7 percent, she said.

"We're just hoping that with a long weekend, we can help stop the spread of some of the germs and the flu-like symptoms that are going around," Snellenberger said.

The cancellation will allow for extra cleaning in the schools. Students were sent home Thursday with information on how to counter the spread of the flu and other illnesses, Snellenberger said.

The cancellation won't affect after-school activities such as basketball.

Classes will resume Monday, according to the Russellville district's website.

The nearby Danville School District, which has about 800 students, canceled classes Jan. 12, citing the spread of the flu, strep throat and a stomach virus.

According to the state Department of Health, the counties with the highest average school absentee rates last week were Randolph County, where 11.5 percent of students were absent, and Prairie County, where almost 10.5 percent of students were absent. An average of about 9.4 percent of students in Pulaski County schools were absent.

State health officials said Wednesday that the percentage of people with flu-like symptoms who visited doctors ticked up in the week that ended Saturday to 10 percent, compared with 8.9 percent the previous week. But that was still below the high of 14.4 percent in late December.

The number of emergency room visits by patients with flu-like symptoms last week was down, but such patients made up a larger percentage of emergency visits, according to the Health Department.

The 2017-2018 flu season started earlier than usual, according to state and federal health officials, with emergency room and doctor visits increasing dramatically in December.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map for the current flu season shows only sporadic flu activity in all but two states in the week that ended Oct. 7. By the week that ended Nov. 11, the map shows widespread flu in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma, along with four other states. By Jan. 6, all states except Hawaii showed widespread flu activity. The map can be found at www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/usmap.htm.

Gary Wheeler, chief medical officer for the state Health Department, said Wednesday that flu incidence in Arkansas appears to have peaked but that the state remains "in the thick of flu season."

Hospital officials in Fort Smith and Fayetteville reported Wednesday seeing big surges in patients presenting with flu-like symptoms. Mercy Health System in Fort Smith opened a flu clinic across the street from its hospital to handle the increase in patients.

Some California hospitals have set up tents to handle the influx of patients, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The number of flu-related deaths in Arkansas since the start of the flu season reached 49 as of last week, and included the first child death, according to the Health Department. Most of the Arkansas deaths have been people 65 or older.

Nationally, 20 children have died of flu illnesses since Oct. 1, according to the CDC.

So far, the spread of the flu and deaths associated with it are within the CDC's estimates of impacts, according to its website. Deaths have numbered between an estimated 12,000 and 56,000 since 2010, the agency says, and reported cases of the illness ranged between 9.2 million and 35.6 million in the same period.

Metro on 01/19/2018

Print Headline: Classrooms thinned by flu, Russellville cancels school

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