YUTAN – An outbreak of influenza A forced Yutan Public Schools to add an extra day to Christmas vacation.

School was called off Dec. 20 at the elementary school after nearly 25 percent of the student population fell ill, according to Superintendent Mitch Hoffer.

Hoffer said there were 55 students out sick on Dec. 17, 65 on Dec. 18 and 67 on Dec. 19, prompting the call to call off classes for Dec. 20.

Flu is always a concern during the winter, when children are inside more and germs are more easily spread. However, these numbers are much worse than normal, Hoffer said.

“This week was probably the worst of it we’ve seen,” he said last Friday.

The flu hit the faculty as well. Hoffer reported the district had seven to eight elementary teachers gone at a time, which meant substitute teachers had to be brought in.

“We’ve been able to successfully cover that, but obviously it’s not an ideal situation,” the superintendent said.

Cancelling classes will give the district a chance to thoroughly clean the facilities, Hoffer said.

“With no kids in the building, we’re disinfecting classrooms pretty deeply,” he said.

Classroom parties were scheduled for the final day of school before Christmas break, another reason Hoffer decided to call off school to prevent further spread of germs.

“We figured there’d probably be a few kids who would try to fight through their sickness to get to the party,” he said.

While the elementary students and staff were hit hard by the flu, things were not nearly as bad at the junior-senior high school. Hoffer said only four students called in sick on Dec. 19.

“Our high school has been pretty healthy so far,” he said.

Hoffer said the relatively healthy status at the junior-high school is probably due to the fact that older students are better at washing hands, an essential hygiene practice during flu season.

The outbreak prompted Hoffer to call experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Three Rivers Health Department, to get an idea of how to handle the situation. He was told there was no magic number to go by when calling off school due to illness.

Terra Uhing, executive director of Three Rivers Health Department, said they leave it up to the school district to decide whether school should be cancelled. However, Hoffer was right to call off school with so many children sick.

“I think the superintendent’s thought process was good,” she said.

The flu season is about two weeks ahead of schedule in Nebraska, according to Uhing. Reports indicate both influenza A and B strains are showing up in the state, she added.

The best defense against the flu is good hygiene and immunization, according to the experts.

“I would still tell you the best way to fight the flu is to get a flu shot,” said Uhing.

Washing hands, coughing into your elbow or a tissue and other hygiene practices are definitely necessary at this time of year, Uhing said.

She also recommended staying home if ill.

“If you’re sick and running a fever you need to stay home and not spread it to anyone else,” she said.

The flu also affected Kids Academy Day Care, which is located in the former elementary school next door to Yu-tan Elementary.

Owner Kayla Horeis said they also closed their doors on Dec. 20 because of illness. They had six confirmed cases of influenza A in the children and three staff that were sick.

“For us it was just more of a precaution,” Horeis said.

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