Flu class

Gwen Key, school nurse at Alexandria Elementary, shows kindergarten kids how to wash their hands to keep from spreading germs. Experts say the flu is spreading more quickly this season than in years past. Meanwhile, Alexandria Elementary School has been chosen to be part of a national program to help stop the spread of the virus. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Edith Trammell, emergency room nurse manager at Regional Medical Center, hasn’t seen a major uptick in flu cases this winter.

She doesn’t expect that to last.

“We have seen a few flu cases but we haven’t seen a lot yet ... we’ve been quite surprised by that,” Trammell said. “We absolutely will see more though.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is spreading faster in the U.S. this winter compared to last year. Coupled with a vaccine that is apparently only 10 percent effective against the virus this year, this flu season could be more intense than previous ones, some health experts say.

The latest CDC report states that several flu activity indicators have been higher than those which are typically seen during this time of year. Seven states have reported widespread flu activity, while 18 states have reported regional flu activity.

So far, Alabama is one of six states that have experienced low flu activity, the CDC reports.

Trammell said the number of flu cases in Calhoun County would likely rise soon, especially once students return from Christmas break.

“When kids go on break, they stay inside and get germs, then when they go back, they start to share those germs,” Trammell said.

Dr. Bernard Camins, associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the flu vaccine is only 10 percent effective against the virus this year, which could be contributing to a faster spread of the disease.

“It could be just that the vaccine is not working as well or it could be that people are not getting it as much this year and it’s not working as well,” Camins said.

Camins noted that residents should still get vaccinated this year.

“Just because it doesn’t protect you 100 percent, doesn’t mean it doesn’t protect you at all,” he said. “It may actually make you less sick ... instead of five days being sick, you might just be sick three days and not have as severe symptoms.”

Gwen Key, school nurse for Alexandria Elementary, said Wednesday that she’d had eight confirmed cases of flu this week, which is about average for this time of year. Still, the school isn’t taking any chances. This year, the school applied to and was chosen for a national program to get free smart thermometers for parents and teachers.

Provided by thermometer manufacturer Kinsa, the program will provide 100 of its products free to Alexandria Elementary in early January. Alexandria was one out of 200 schools chosen nationwide this year for the program.

Lauren Davis, vice president of marketing for Kinsa, said the smart thermometers pair with a free smartphone app. The app lets parents see what types of diseases, be it the flu or strep throat, are circulating in their children’s school, Davis said.

“All the families there right now are signing up and downloading the app,” Davis said.

Key said she’s also been teaching classes to students this year about proper hygiene.

“We have handwashing classes and provide tips to the students,” Key said.

Joan Kirk, school nurse for Kitty Stone Elementary in Jacksonville, said her school has seen a rise in sick kids this year.

“There has been an increase in November and December in the amount of fevers that I’m seeing,” Kirk said. “I sent out an email to teachers when we first started getting cold weather, that they be sure to tell their kids wash their hands with soap for two minutes and to sneeze into their elbows.”

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.