MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — School nurses are reminding parents to keep children with fevers home as influenza — or a nasty virus with similar symptoms — appears to be cycling through the schools.

“We’ve been sending home 10 to 20 [students] a day from our office, and on average, we’ve had 75 absent a day for the last week,” Sollars Elementary School nurse Vicki Campbell said Tuesday. “On some days we’ve had classrooms with nine absent at a time.”

Students’ symptoms include fever, coughing, sore throat, aches, upper respiratory congestion and in about half the cases, vomiting, she said, adding that the illness usually lasts three to five days, sometimes a week.

“This has probably been the worst I’ve seen in three years,” she said.

Cummings Elementary School across the base is faring about the same. The school’s substitute nurse, Shay Bessemer, said she saw 38 students Monday but just two hours into Tuesday’s school day, the count already was at 13. “They have headaches, nausea, fever,” she said. “If they’re not running a fever, we try to get them back to class. If they’re running a fever, their parents have to go pick them up.”

At Sollars, absences are lower this year but more kids are being sent home with fevers, Campbell said. Parents are advised to keep their children home 24 hours after a fever subsides; otherwise they’re still contagious, she said.

While the flu and common cold have no cure, parents should keep their child hydrated and well-rested, Campbell said. “You’ve just got to let it run its course. … And hand-washing, lots and lots of hand-washing. Let’s prevent this stuff.”

While anecdotal evidence may point to the flu or a flu-like virus being on the rise at Misawa, Maj. LeVette Hamblin, public health flight commander, said fewer people this year have been diagnosed with an “influenza-like illness” at the base medical clinic. Last year, 984 were seen at the clinic with flu-like symptoms between Dec. 1 and March 1, compared with 915 during the same period this year. She noted, however, that not everyone with flu-like symptoms comes to the clinic for treatment.

Still, nine of 10 cases typically are not bona-fide influenza, Hamblin said. “If you have the flu, you can’t function, you can’t do the normal day-to-day routine,” she said.

If a patient comes to the clinic with a 100.5-degree or higher fever and has a cough, sore throat or evidence of acute pneumonia, a nasal specimen is lab tested. “So far, we’ve only had one come back confirmed as influenza,” Hamblin said.

But flu season isn’t over. People most commonly contract influenza from about December through March, even April, Hamblin said. “You can get flu any time of year; it just isn’t as common” off-season.

Flu shots still are available for those eligible. This year at Misawa that includes active-duty personnel, people 50 and older and those identified as high-risk for becoming seriously ill from the flu, such as children 6 to 23 months and pregnant women.

Most importantly, though, said Hamblin: “Wash your hands, often.” The vaccine offers some protection but “there are different strains of the flu and you can still get sick.”

Aspirin's not the answer here, doctors warn

After seeing several children who have been given over-the-counter “baby aspirin,” medical officials at Misawa Air Base, Japan, are cautioning parents not to use aspirin to treat flu-like symptoms in children or infants.

The use of aspirin in children has been associated with Reye’s Syndrome, a rare but potentially serious and sometimes fatal condition that can cause liver and brain damage, according to physician Capt. Shayne Stokes, director of inpatient pediatric services at the base medical clinic. It can occur if children are infected with the virus that causes chicken pox or influenza and take aspirin or aspirin-containing products, Stokes said in a written statement to Stars and Stripes.

“It is never OK to give aspirin to infants/children unless directed to do so by a physician,” Stokes stated, adding that no complications have occurred in the children who have taken aspirin at Misawa.

If a child has a fever, the doctor said, parents safely can give:

Children’s Tylenol, at the appropriate dosage for the child’s weight, every four to six hours.Ibuprofen (Children’s Motrin/Advil), dosed appropriately, every six to eight hours, as long as the child is drinking and urinating normally.If parents cannot find Children’s Tylenol or Children’s Motrin/Advil at a base store, they should call DSN 226-6111 and leave a telephone message for their primary care provider, Stokes said. A nurse will contact them as soon as possible to provide recommendations.

— Stars and Stripes

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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