UW researchers to study flu in Oregon schools

Study starts Jan. 5
UW researchers to study flu in Oregon schools

A group of University of Wisconsin researchers will use the Oregon School District to study the early signs of a flu outbreak in communities.

Researchers will follow trends in student absences from schools, test ill students for flu and other respiratory viruses, and compare the data to clinic activity and various state flu surveillance reports.

The research team is headed by Dr. Jon Temte who is a professor in the department of family medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. He’s also a resident of Oregon.

Temte said they hope to find an early predictor of flu outbreaks in communities. He said schools pose advantages for surveillance because viruses are common and spread quickly in that population.

“We think by getting a better hand at what’s going on at schools, more specifically across a school district , we’re better able to have an idea of what’s going on in the entire community,” Temte said. “And we think we may be able to get an early warning by looking at flu in schools.”

Until now there has been no way to correlate if influenza caused an absence. If a child is out sick, a parent will receive a reminder that Temte has a crew ready to make a home visit and collect a sample if a parent grants their permission.

“Swabbing the nose. Swabbing the back of the throat. And that way we’ll know whether or not the child has influenza,” Temte said. “Hopefully we have something very generizeable that can be taken from the Oregon School District, and make this an early warning system for influenza.”

The Oregon School District has about 4,000 students. Temte hopes to recruit 500 each year over the three-year study.

At its’ worst, sickness causes 20 percent, or 800 absences, in the Oregon School District. That’s why Superintendent Brian Busler, who also worked to bring the study to Oregon, welcomed the news.

“Once that information is published we’re going to share it with our parents,” Busler said. “There may be some trend or something unique to our school district that we can share with parents and perhaps reduce the number of absenteeism in the future.”

Busler said there have been no parent concerns. Mom Billie Farrar, who has a second grader in the district, was happy to hear about the long awaited approval.

“I think it would be interesting information to know. And to know if we can do anything more to help the flu (rates) and keep it from spreading,” Farrar said.

The $1.5 million study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and prevent will begin when students return to school Jan. 5, and continue for the next two school years.