About 150 students from Chandler’s Seton Catholic High School stayed home earlier this week due to flulike symptoms.
Principal Pat Collins said more than 20 percent of the school’s 520 students and a handful of staff members reported soaring fevers, sore throats and upper respiratory problems Tuesday.
The illness swept through the girls varsity soccer team, sidelining 13 of 22 players just days before their state championship game this weekend.
Seton contacted the Maricopa County Health Department earlier this week to report the outbreak.
Most schools are not required to report such cases, but health department officials do keep tabs on 20 schools in the county to track illness trends.
“We’re definitely seeing increases in influenzalike symptoms,” said department spokeswoman Jeanene Fowler. “It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘the flu’ ... (but) there’s definitely a lot of that going on in schools right now.”
February normally marks the peak of flu season, Fowler said.
Collins said she was caught off guard by the number of students hit by illness.
Teachers who had free class periods took over for their colleagues who called in sick. Some classes were “doubled up” to keep things running, she said.
At one point, Collins wondered if they should close the school.
“My thought was: We need to break the cycle,” she said.
After conferring with health department officials, Collins decided the better option was to keep the school open, but to stockpile disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.
Health department officials said the illness likely spread because sick students were returning to school too early.
Seton is now encouraging parents to keep students home until all of their symptoms are gone.
For the last few days, students disinfected their desks before each class period and washed their hands with the sanitizer to prevent the spread of germs, Collins said.
So far, the techniques seem to be working.
Only about 75 students were reported absent because of illness as of Thursday afternoon.
“We’re over it and doing better,” Collins said.
Tips for preventing spread of the flu
• Wash your hands regularly
• If you’re sick, stay home
• Sneeze into your sleeve instead of your hand or the air
• Get a flu shot. Check www.fluaz.org for a list of locations giving free flu shots
Source: Maricopa County Health Department