published Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Virus blamed for absences at Clifton Hills Elementary School in Chattanooga

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    Clifton Hills Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tennessee
    Photo by D. Patrick Harding

A mild virus is to blame for a rash of absences early this month at Clifton Hills Elementary School.

About one-fifth of the school's students were absent or sent home on March 9 and 11, along with several teachers. After investigating the outbreak, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department officials say nothing serious occurred.

"Kids were not ill for very long and not severely ill," said Margaret Zylstra, epidemiology manager at the health department.

The health department used a telephone triage system to contact students and gather information on their illnesses. While some were out for other reasons, many showed similar symptoms, including sore throat, headache, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

Zylstra said such viral illnesses are typical for this time of year, though such an outbreak is usually distributed across schools.

"That would not be an unusual amount of absences during a time when the flu is circulating," she said. "It was a little bit unusual in that we did not see that occurring to that extent in other schools."

Sheryl Rogers, director of health services for Hamilton County Schools, said an outbreak like the one at Clifton Hills is the reason school officials want sick children to stay home. Sending the ill to school only exacerbates the problem, she said.

"The problem is that a lot of kids were sick and parents still sent them to school," Rogers said.

Zylstra said schools serve as a bellwether of the overall health of the community.

"We do use the schools as a good kind of indication of what's going on in the community," she said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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