So far, influenza has had a modest effect on the Cuyahoga Falls and Woodridge school districts.
"After gathering information from our schools, it appears that our illness-related absences were higher in December and have returned to normal January trends since our return from the holidays," said Cuyahoga Falls City Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols, who added that officials "have shared the Ohio Department of Health influenza prevention guidelines" with district staff, students and parents.
Walter Davis, superintendent of Woodridge Local Schools, said his district has seen a "moderate" increase in staff absences due to personal illnesses. "We have had a number of our administrative and support staff team impacted," Davis said, "as well as teachers at all of our buildings. There is not one specific building that has been impacted more than another -- it seems to be affecting all of our schools."
Davis said in some cases, staff members are out because there is illness in their immediate family. "Their children are sick and they have to care for them," he said. "Clearly, however, student absence at each of our schools has increased over the same period last year. We have seen stomach flu as well as the respiratory illnesses that seem to be spreading in our region."
To monitor student illness, Woodridge works closely with Akron Children's Hospital, the district's nursing services provider. Staff members were given the opportunity to get their flu shots at school, and many took advantage of that option, Davis said. The district's school nurse sent an email to everyone on staff to provide information on how to fight the flu.
The Ohio Department of Health reported Jan. 11 that one Ohio child died from "flu-related illness," and a handful of adult deaths have been linked to the flu, the Associated Press reports. The Ohio Department of Health did not say where the child was from.
Tessie Pollock, a department spokesperson, said the outbreak is "an early start to the flu season."
Flu viruses are "so unpredictable," Pollock said, you do not know what is going to happen.
"We may have reached our peak," she said. "Maybe next week we'll reach our peak or maybe we'll continue to climb."
The Department of Health usually does not see the flu season "peak" until February, Pollock noted.
During last year's flu season there were no reported deaths among children, Pollock said. The year before there was one.
Ohio is among 47 states with widespread flu outbreaks, and health officials blame the flu for at least 20 child deaths nationally, the AP reported.
Flu-associated hospitalizations are running at much higher rates than the last two seasons. The state reports there have been 1,922 since October in Ohio, compared with 86 a year ago and 175 the previous season.
Some hospitals have begun limiting visitors and handing out surgical masks to try to slow the spread, and health officials are urging people to stay home if they are sick and to keep ill children out of daycares and schools.
Regardless of the nationwide trend, Summit County is seeing a notably high frequency of the illness.
"We have high influenza activity in the county," said Margo Erme, medical director of the Summit County Health Department. "We started seeing influenza activity at the end of November, and it's continuing to go up. We do not believe it's peaked yet."
Erme said measures of influenza infections garnered from hospital and emergency room admissions all show increases. Schools, which were out of session over the holidays, have only been back in session for a couple of weeks.
"It doesn't surprise me they're not seeing activity," she said. "That could change one or two weeks from now."