Bishop Blanchet High School, a private Catholic school in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood, will close tomorrow and Thursday after school officials reported that about 150 students and an unspecified number of staff members were absent.
School officials at first blamed whooping cough, also known as pertussis, but officials from Public Health – Seattle & King County said the school’s description of most students’ symptoms and of the speed of the outbreak more closely matched influenza, which is still circulating in the community.
“This sounds flu driven” said James Apa, public health spokesman. Blanchet called the agency early today, seeking guidance, Apa said.
An earlier post, based on information from Blanchet, reported that school officials attributed the outbreak to pertussis.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, the county’s communicable disease expert, said pertussis has a longer incubation period than flu and rarely results in a sudden, high absentee rate, Apa said. In addition, the symptoms school officials described sounded like flu, he said. However, Apa added, “given how much pertussis there is in the county, it is likely that there are some pertussis cases at the school.”
Normally, health officials do not advise schools to close during an outbreak, because by the time there is high absenteeism, Apa said, exposure already has been broad.
Instead, they advise the staples of disease containment: Wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home if you’re sick.