St Patrick’s School in Masterton. PHOTO/FILE
Flu strikes fast in Wairarapa schools

BECKIE WILSON
beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

Primary schools across the region have been hit with the flu, with large numbers of children away sick.

Wairarapa Hospital is also seeing an increase in symptoms, with some patients hospitalised.

Masterton Medical and Wairarapa Hospital have seen a delayed start to the ‘flu season’ with the number of those sick increasing over the past two weeks.

Primary schools are asking parents to keep ill children at home to reduce the spread of viral illnesses, which are also affecting teachers.

St Patrick’s School in Masterton had 28 pupils off sick on Friday.

Principal Steve Wheeler said seven pupils went home on Friday after the flu-like symptoms came on quickly.

“One thing we have noticed is how quick it is hitting children –they come in and two hours later they are ill. We see symptoms quite quickly.”

A vomiting bug first hit the school a few weeks ago, with many teachers and pupils absent, he said.

Wheeler said he had been in contact with Regional Public Health and the Ministry of Health.

St Teresa’s School in Featherston also had nearly 30 pupils away sick.

Principal Jennifer Muth said she noticed a spike in children away sick last Friday, with about 16 of the 105-strong roll off.

When the number of sick pupils reaches 15 per cent of the roll, the ministry must be notified.

Muth said the ministry asked for throat swabs from pupils on Monday, and results came back as influenza A.

“It’s a very nasty bug,” she said.

The symptoms varied, with some pupils vomiting and with diarrhoea, while others had a peak in temperatures.

Greytown Primary School principal Patrice O’Connor was seeing a similar trend with a large number of staff and pupils away recently.

She noticed about four different bugs circulating within the school, with symptoms ranging from headaches and high temperatures, to projectile vomiting, and others with aching joints.

The school had ramped up its cleaning roster which included more regular cleaning of drinking fountains, she said.

Sue Walters, principal of Masterton Primary School, said there was a higher-than-normal number of children away sick.

“There is a lot of it around and we are sending kids home with flu-like symptoms daily,” she said.

Wairarapa Hospital had seen a “significant increase” in flu-like symptoms and has “a number of hospitalised patients awaiting confirmation of diagnosis”, Wairarapa DHB communications manager Anna Cardno said.

“We were anticipating a very bad winter for flu this year, based on the recent overseas experience, and it seems we may be seeing the evidence of that now,” she said.

Masterton Medical general manager Robyn Wilson noticed the ‘flu season’ was delayed, compared with last year, with increasing numbers of patients with symptoms being seen the past couple of weeks.

The Wairarapa After Hours Service, based at the clinic, had also recorded an increased number of patients with flu-like symptoms over recent weekends.

“It is probably too soon to say whether this winter has been better or worse for flu than previous years,” she said.

Regional Public Health medical health officer Dr Craig Thornley said in the past two weeks he had noticed an increase in the number of the region’s schools and early childhood centres with viral illnesses.

Thornley said the increase in the flu, and other viral illnesses, was mainly affecting younger age groups.

“The flu and winter virus season has been lower in numbers than usual, with an increase in the number of influenza-like illnesses occurring later than normal,” he said.

What is the difference between flu and a cold?

The symptoms of a cold build over 48 hours, and can last up to 10 days, and include: mild fever and headache, coughing, mild muscle aches.

Flu symptoms, which can last up to two weeks, have a quick onset, and include high fever and chills, severe headache, an occasional cough, weakness and fatigue.