Latest illness obnoxious, but typical

Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2001

The virus making the rounds in Juneau may be uncomfortable, but it's not the flu.

This particular bug includes a high fever and sore throat, and other symptoms such as nausea and stomach pain. But it's just the usual for this time of year, said Kathy Miller, acting nurse manager for Juneau's Public Health Center.

"Influenza activity is real low for Southeast Alaska," Miller said today, citing information on the state epidemiology Web site.

Miller attributes the spate of low-grade but troubling illness to "people traveling for the holidays, and the potential for a new mix of viral illnesses."

"We really haven't heard about increased numbers or increased severity of illness," Miller said.

Anecdotally, the Public Health Center is hearing of both children and adults sick with chest congestion, sore throats or nausea, she said, "but there is nothing unusual for the month of January ... nothing unusual from school nurses."

Total absenteeism for the Juneau School District has not been alarming for mid-winter, said Mary Robidoux, attendance clerk at Juneau-Douglas High School.

"It's been pretty normal here; I haven't seen anything exceptional," Robidoux said.

Miller recommends the usual precautions to guard against illness: Maintain good nutrition and make sure you get enough rest.

"And hand washing is always a first line of defense," she added.

JDHS nurse Barbara Walker said she has seen dozens of students since the beginning of November with a variety of flu-like symptoms, including bad sore throats, laryngitis, strong stomach pains and cramping, dizziness and chills.

In her experience, only 50 percent of the ailing students suffer from a fever in addition to their other symptoms.

"I have had some students sent to me by teachers in the last month complaining that the light hurts their eyes," Walker said.

The illness varies, she said, from upper respiratory to gastrointestinal.

"Some wind up with sinusitis or bronchitis; others have nausea and vomiting. This lasts from three days to two weeks," Walker said. "It seems to be that it's worse this winter than I have seen it for many years."

She was amazed, however, by the number of ailing students who didn't want to be sent home.

"It speaks to their character that they talk about papers due and not wanting to miss class. A lot of them try to tough it out, but I try to send them home because I think it's infectious," she said.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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