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Respiratory illness outbreak at Leo Nickerson

Hand-washing, masks can help

Alberta Health Services has declared an outbreak at Leo Nickerson Elementary after a “large number” of students became sick with respiratory symptoms.

AHS sent a letter to Leo Nickerson Elementary parents and guardians Nov. 20 advising them that the province had declared a respiratory illness outbreak at their school.

AHS guidelines require schools to report cases of respiratory illness when at least 10 per cent of the student population is absent due to illness or an “unusual amount” of students have common symptoms, such as cough, fever, runny nose, or shortness of breath. When this happens, AHS investigates and decides whether or not to declare a respiratory disease outbreak.

If an outbreak is declared, AHS directs the school to step up its cleaning and disinfection actions and may bring in safety measures such as closing water fountains, disinfecting shared items, and wearing masks on buses.

In its Nov. 20 letter to parents, AHS recommended students regularly clean their hands with hand sanitizer or soap and water, and cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing to prevent disease spread. They should also have up-to-date vaccinations against influenza and COVID-19.

The letter noted that wearing well-fitted, high quality face masks can reduce a person’s risk of getting or spreading disease, but did not explicitly recommend mask use.

The letter said anyone with respiratory illness symptoms should stay home until their symptoms have improved, they have not had a fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine, and they feel well enough to resume regular activities. Symptoms can be managed with plenty of rest and fluids.

Parents with questions about the outbreak should call Health Link Alberta at 811.

There have been 26 respiratory illness outbreaks in the Edmonton zone so far this year, the AHS respiratory virus dashboard reported on Nov. 20.

The Leo Nickerson outbreak coincided with a significant upswing in the amount of confirmed cases of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 in Alberta, the dashboard suggests. RSV cases rose from 20 a week to 81 a week between Oct. 15 and Nov. 5, with influenza going from 58 a week to 389 a week over that same interval. While COVID-19 cases stayed relatively stable between Oct. 15 to Nov. 5, the province had about 2.7 times as many COVID-19 cases per week as of Nov. 5 than it did on Aug. 27.

The Gazette will have further details on this outbreak later this week.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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