State health officials say spike in school absences likely caused by Influenza B

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - More than half of the students at an Anchorage Elementary school were absent Wednesday after a spreading illness that state officials say appears to be largely driven by influenza Type B.

“It's time once again to talk about the single most important thing we need to do each year,” said Dr. William Schaffner, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, “That’s right: Get an annual flu vaccination.”

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, a state epidemiologist says that nationwide, vaccination rates are about 50% but in Alaska, it is around 44%. He says that getting one is not only likely to prevent the illness, if you do get it, symptoms can be less severe, even if you get it late in the season.

Unfortunately for a massive group at Rogers Park Elementary School, The flu has run rampant there.

Alan Brown, a spokesperson for the Anchorage School District, says 269 of the 506 students enrolled at Rogers Park were absent Wednesday, along with 13 staff members.

Four of the staff absences were pre-arranged.

But Mclaughlin says staff and students at Rogers Park were offered a survey of symptoms and many of them matched those of influenza Type B.

He suggests anyone who is sick stay home from school and work and if people at Thanksgiving gatherings are ill, keep your distance.

As always, frequent hand washing can keep also help sicknesses at bay but his biggest piece of advice is to get the flu vaccine.


Data from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Anchorage Health Department shows a large spike in cases reported starting Nov. 16.

About 150 cases were reported during the week of Nov. 17 to Nov. 23

Looking at the flu snapshot, you can see a large flu activity spike in the Anchorage area followed by the Mat-Su.

A major take away from the flu snapshot is the fact that Influenza B is more prevalent in Alaska than Influenza A something that is considered unusual.

According to the CDC, A total of 393 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported by FluSurv-NET sites nation-wide between October 1, 2019 and November 16, 2019.

The highest rate of hospitalization was among adults 65 years old and older, followed by children aged 0-4 and adults aged 50-64.

Among 393 hospitalizations, 62.6% were associated with influenza A virus, 36.1% with influenza B virus, 0.8% with influenza A virus and influenza B virus co-infection, and 0.5% with influenza virus for which the type was not determined.


According to the Mayo Clinc, here are some common sights and symtopms of the flu:

  • Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)

  • Aching muscles

  • Chills and sweats

  • Headache

  • Dry, persistent cough

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Nasal congestion

  • Sore throat

How to stop the spread

The Mayo Clinic says the flu shot isn't 100% effective, so the following measures should be taken:

-Wash your hands thoroughly and often
-Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
-Avoid crowds during the peak of the flu season

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shared the following poster to help people stay healthy this flu season.

Last year the Mayo Clinc put our a video debunking myths about the flu, you can see the video below or here

For more information from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on the flu, symptoms and how to avoid getting sick, you can click here.

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