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Boston schools so far mostly unscathed by flu season

In a city that has been hard hit by the flu, Boston schools have gone largely unscathed so far, avoiding major outbreaks of the disease despite children’s greater natural tendency to get the disease, school officials said.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino declared a state of emergency in Boston last week, with 700 confirmed cases of the flu in the city, 10 times more than last year. Although there have been more flu cases in city schools this year, the virus has been well contained and hasn’t disrupted classes, Boston Public Schools spokesman Matt Wilder said.

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“We’re just really engaging students and staff to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly,” he said. “The superintendent has made several automated calls home to parents to advise them to get flu shots for their kids.”

There have been 88 cases of flu in city schools this flu season, Wilder said. Last year, there were only 70 reported cases in the entire city of Boston.

But attendance at schools is nearly identical to this time last year. From Jan. 3 to Jan. 14, 2012, BPS reported 90.5 percent of students attended classes. During the same period this year, 89.7 percent attended classes, Wilder said.

Massachusetts School Nurse Association President Pamela J. Rivers said flu season is beginning to level off after starting earlier than usual. School nurses started to see cases as early as October, but the flu season does not usually start until December.

“There’s been a bit of a bump in [the number of] cases we see, but we’re also starting to see it plateau,” she said.

Cambridge and Somerville schools reported similar patterns, with slightly more cases than last year but nothing that is particularly worrying city health officials.

The number and severity of flu cases in schools has been “substantial but not scary,” said Lisa Doberteen, medical director of the school health program for Cambridge Public Schools.

School nurses have been trying to hammer home frequent and effective hand-washing practices, and it hasn’t hurt that schools haven’t run into any vaccine shortages, Rivers said.

“Modeling good hand washing and educating parents when to keep their kids home has been a major success of the response,” she said.

Todd Feathers can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @ToddFeathers.
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