COLUMBIA — A flu-like illness that struck more than 20 percent of the student body caused Cardinal Newman School to shut down for a full day on Jan. 28.
Principal Jacqualine Kas p r o w ski said the school buildings were disinfected and then reopened for normal hours on Jan. 29. Some students were still out with the illness Jan. 30.
“We chose to be proactive … and give the kids a day where they could not have classes,” Kasprowski said in an interview with The Miscellany. “This illness is going through whole families.”
About 15 percent of the high school’s 485 students were out sick on Jan. 26, she said. The next day, 100 students called in sick, and others fell ill while at school. Some faculty members also were sick.
Kasprowski said symptoms ranged from nausea and vomiting to sore throats, coughs, aches and fevers.
She said absences first started on Jan. 22 and by Monday, Jan. 25, they had jumped significantly.
“I assured families they needed to keep their sick kids home, and we’ll work with them to make up the work they missed when they get back,” she said.
Some cases of the illness were also reported at St. Joseph School on Devine Street in Columbia, said Rose Tindall, principal. She noted that most of the affected students there have siblings who attend Cardinal Newman.
No significant absences were reported at St. Peter, St. Martin de Porres or St. John Neumann schools, all in Columbia.
Cardinal Newman buildings were sanitized with a disinfectant fog commonly used in locker rooms.
Kasprowski said DHEC and medical professionals recommend that students be free of fever for 24 hours before returning to school after an illness. If a doctor prescribes antibiotics, she said students should take them for a full 24 hours before returning.
“We’re going to try to determine if it’s a particular flu strain causing this, and if it’s one that can be prevented we’ll offer flu shots here again,” she said. The school offered shots in the fall.
Kasprowski said the administration is urging students and staff members to wash their hands regularly and also is considering putting containers of hand sanitizer around the school. Many teachers have already placed bottles of sanitizer in their classrooms.
Tindall said staff members at St. Joseph were “disinfecting everything everyday” because the school has so many connections with Cardinal Newman. She said the younger students watched a special video about how to wash their hands properly.
“The video says you should sing the ABC song while washing, and when it’s finished, you’ve washed enough,” Tindall said. “This has been a good teachable moment for us.”
Kasprowski said some students were still out on Feb. 2, but attendance was much better than at the height of the outbreak.
Because of the illness, Kasprowski said games with St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville were rescheduled and will be played on Feb. 14.
“We didn’t want to take a chance of spreading the illness,” she said. No other Cardinal Newman sporting events were affected.
Here are some ways to prevent the spread of flu and similar illnesses, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site:
The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to be vaccinated. There are also antiviral flu drugs that can be used for prevention.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to avoid spreading germs.
If possible, stay home from work, school and errands. This will help prevent others from catching your illness.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress levels, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
To learn more about prevention, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm.