Influenza has already led to seven deaths in Nebraska so far, and the flu is causing schools across the country to close their doors as huge percentages of students are coming down with the highly–contagious virus.
And now, local schools are looking to protect kids from what's being called one of the worst flu outbreaks in more than a decade.
In Kearney, officials say they're seeing normal levels of influenza amongst students, but are taking every precaution to make sure it stays that way.
"We supply hand sanitizer throughout the buildings — we certainly want it available when the kids get in the lunch line," Julene Lesher, a registered nurse with Kearney Public Schools, said. "In our classrooms — the schools that have had renovations or the newly–built schools —there are sinks in each classroom. The kids are encouraged to wash their hands, they're encouraged to use the hand sanitizer, strongly encouraged not to touch their eyes, nose or mouth without washing their hands first, because that's the main way we can get sick."
And if a child does show signs of the flu, school officials don't waste any time getting them off school grounds and away from other students.
"We try to get them home as soon as possible," Lesher said. "If we see that temperature, we keep them here in the health room and call the parent and get them home as soon as possible. They can not return to school until they've been fever–free — without needing fever–reducing medications to artificially bring down the temperature — for 24 hours."
During the flu season, the schools also increase the amount of cleaning they do in certain high–traffic areas – like water fountain buttons – but Lesher says cleaning is no substitute for healthy habits.
"No amount of school cleaning can replace the importance of hand hygiene, keeping the hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth, coughing in the sleeve and staying home when you're sick," she said. "You can clean the surfaces, but as soon as somebody touches that, the germs are back, and so that's why we really emphasize those good health habits to keep students and staff healthy."