As North Central Florida undergoes a potential flu outbreak, Alachua County schools are prepared.
According to Jackie Johnson, spokeswoman for the Alachua County School Board, about 13,000 public and private school students were vaccinated this year, which is about 50 percent of the student population.
Throughout the 2013 fall semester, Johnson said the school board worked to provide students with vaccinations to help prepare for a flu outbreak.
Parker A. Small, University of Florida pathology professor, said it takes about two weeks for flu vaccinations to take effect, so it is important people get vaccinated quickly.
Small said vaccinations are especially crucial for children as they have the tendency to both contract and spread the virus faster than adults.
In children, first experiences with the flu can prove to be more severe due to their lack of immunity. Their lack of “health etiquette,” such as not washing their hands frequently or covering their mouths when coughing, can also help spread the virus rapidly, Small said.
“We wanted to get the students vaccinated as early as possible before the flu season starts,” Johnson said.
Free vaccinations were administered at school clinics through FluMist, a nasal vaccination.
According to the FluMist website, the needle-free nasal-spray flu vaccine protects against four strains of flu and is available for individuals ages two to 49.
With this year’s flu season claiming 12 lives throughout North Central Florida, five of which affected people under the age of 40, the concerns about young students were significant.
“This year, the flu has arrived earlier than we sometimes see but because of the early program the school children were protected,” Small said. “If that program had been instituted now there would have been a lot of infected kids.”
Johnson said that school nurses are available to help parents whose children were not vaccinated and might be displaying flu-like symptoms. She encouraged families to look out for vaccinations next year and said “protecting the child is the first step to protecting the family.”
Perri Konecky edited this story online.