Is There A Flu Outbreak In The Mid-South?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - As Local 24  first reported Tuesday, widespread illnesses have caused Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Cordova to close for the week. It may be flu season, but is this a flu outbreak? And is this closing a sign of things to come for the mid-south?
 
Officials with the Catholic Diocese of Memphis reported nearly one fifth of the school's roughly 500 students and teachers became sick this week. 
 
The Shelby County Health Department is investigating the situation at St. Francis of Assisi, but health officials tell us that confirming a flu outbreak can be difficult. That's because is some cases, other illnesses can be mistaken for the flu.
 
"Sometimes we don't have fully accurate numbers because we don't have the laboratory tests," says Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter. "We rely on information about flu-like illnesses. We know what the flu is like and what those symptoms are."
 
Some misdiagnosed illnesses can include things like colds and the norovirus, better known as the stomach bug. While Memphis is currently seeing higher flu-like activity in the state, the numbers for flu-related illnesses aren't as dire as some might think.
 
"I would say it's been a little milder this year so far. I want to put out the caveat the flu season is not over yet," says Haushalter.
 
Local doctors are seeing some truth to that.
 
"It seems to be occurring later this year than it did in previous years," says Dr. Freddie Everson with Baptist Medical Group.
 
Since there is still time to protect yourself, doctors and local health officials are stressing the importance of getting a flu shot and staying healthy to help keep flu numbers down. 
 
"Pay closer attention to hand washing and covering their mouths while they're coughing, particularly when they're in a crowded or group situation," says Dr. Everson.
 
As for St. Francis Assisi in Cordova, Catholic Diocese officials tell us that the decision to close the school was based on student safety, not necessarily the number of people who became sick. A professional cleaning crew will be working to disinfect the school over the next couple days. Classes are planning to resume on Monday.

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