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UPDATE: Respiratory illness outbreak at Leo Nickerson

Roughly 120 students sick at home
IT’S SICK OUT THERE — Alberta Health Services declared an outbreak of respiratory illness at Leo Nickerson Elementary on Nov. 20, 2023. The outbreak occured amidst a provincewide upswing in the respiratory diseases RSV, influenza, and COVID-19. ALBERTA HEALTH SERVICES/Graphic

Alberta Health Services has declared an outbreak at Leo Nickerson Elementary after some 120 of its 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 an email, St. Albert Public spokesperson Paula Power said Leo Nickerson reached the 10 per cent reporting threshold on Nov. 20. About 120 students were absent due to illness. The exact nature of the illness involved is unknown, as parents don’t necessarily know or report that information.

Nickerson was the only St. Albert or Sturgeon County school with a declared respiratory disease outbreak as of Nov. 22, spokespersons from the region’s four school districts told the Gazette.

Power said crews did a deep clean of the school on Nov. 20, and staff cancelled a school assembly that had been scheduled for Nov. 22. Parents and students were being reminded about the importance of diligent hand washing and other hygiene measures, and staying at home if they are sick.

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.

Disease on rise

There have been 26 respiratory illness outbreaks in the Edmonton zone so far this year, the AHS respiratory virus dashboard reported on Nov. 22.

The Leo Nickerson outbreak coincided with an upswing in the number of confirmed cases of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 in Alberta, the dashboard suggests. RSV cases rose to 81 a week from 20 between Oct. 15 and Nov. 5, with influenza rising to 389 a week from 58 over that same period. 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 on Nov. 5 than it did on Aug. 27.

In an email, Dr. Alfred Durojaye, president of the board of directors for the St. Albert and Sturgeon Primary Care Network (who practices in St. Albert and Legal) said respiratory illnesses include many viral illnesses associated with cough, fever, runny nose, or shortness of breath, such as influenza, RSV, and COVID-19.

“I have started seeing an uptick in people presenting with respiratory illness in my practice, which is typical for this time of year,” he said.

To protect against illness, Durojaye encouraged everyone to get their flu and COVID vaccinations and to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly.

“If you are ill, the best way to prevent spread is to follow the AHS recommendations: stay home, get plenty of rest, and take lots of fluids until your symptoms have improved,” he said.

“Ideally, you should stay home until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine and you are feeling well enough to resume regular activities.”

Durojaye noted it was good practice to cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze and to consider wearing a mask if you were symptomatic, especially if you or anyone around you had a compromised immune system.

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

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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