Virulent bug fells kids and staff

By Kiri Gillespie

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Absentee rates at some Bay schools are soaring as a nasty bug takes its toll on staff and students.

The Papamoa area appears to be hardest hit, with one school reporting an absentee rate of 27 per cent while, in Tauranga, Otumoetai College may have to apply for additional funding to cover relief teaching costs after 11 staff were off sick on Monday.

Schools hit by the flu-like illness say symptoms include stomach aches, headaches, drowsiness and coughing.

Tahatai Coast School Jenny Griggs said the number of of pupils off sick had spiked during the past week.

The school has a roll of 649 children with an average absentee rate of about 7 per cent, but last week that soared to 27 per cent.

"It has been pretty horrible since we came back from school holidays.

"I think the weather hasn't done anything to help it," Mrs Griggs said.

The lingering flu-type illness appeared to be more virulent than in previous years, she said.

Te Akau Ki Papamoa Primary School principal Bruce Jepsen said he had never encountered a flu that had hit the school roll so hard.

Many experienced staff, who had built up resistance to typical bugs, had been struck down by the illness.

"I sort of concur with others out there that this is a different kind of flu," he said.

"Our caretaker was off for two days, the first two days off in 13 years.

"He's said he's had the flu before but not like this."

On average the school has an absentee rate of about 1 per cent but that peaked at 9.6 per cent last week and nine teachers were also off sick, Mr Jepsen said.

"We've been getting children coming in complaining of tummy aches, which quickly change to headaches then just drowsiness and not feeling too good, followed by coughing," the principal said.

Caretaker Gavin Legg said the flu had hit him hard.

He had worked on farms in the past and was used to working through illnesses to get the job done.

Papamoa Primary School principal Phil Friar said students had been dropping like flies last week but things appeared to be returning to normal.

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell, said the school, which had a roll of 2000 students, had 200 kids off on most days last week.

"We've had 11 teachers away this morning with the flu.

"We had significant numbers down because of the flu, it's really hit us," Mr Randell said.

"We're looking at applying to the Ministry of Education to cover our relief costs.

"The problem with this flu is that people need about a week off and this poses a problem for parents as to how to cope with having a sick child off school.

"Instead of staff being away one to two days, they're needing a week off. That's been hard on the kids, with relief teachers and continuity of lessons."

Gate Pa School principal Richard Inder said they had five staff off sick last week but other schools contacted by the Bay of Plenty Times including St Mary's Catholic School and Maungatapu School reported no significant change in sickness rates.

Papamoa Pines nurse manager Jane Campbell said there had been an increase in patients with flu-like symptoms, particularly children.

"Some people have been pretty ill with it," she said.

"It would be really good if people could come in and get the flu vaccine.

"It doesn't offer 100 per cent protection but it does give you a fighting chance against it. Having a flu vaccination will certainly help people from getting ill and I would recommend it to anyone at risk."

Camilla Wilkin, practice manager of BayMed, which covers Bayfair Doctors and Papamoa Doctors, said there had been an increase in patients with the flu but it was to be expected in winter.

Toi Te Ora Medical Officer of Health Jim Miller said they had not been made aware of any particular flu strain circulating in the Western Bay.

However, the flu was not a notifiable disease, he said.

"It's kind of business as usual for influenza, as far as we are aware," Dr Miller said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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