Administrators allay fears over high cases of cough, flu in schools

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | School administrators have allayed fears that the high number of reported cases of flu and cough among learners might be related to COVID-19. This follows the high cases of persistent flu and cough registered among learners, especially in nursery and primary schools.

Our reporters visited several schools in Kampala where the administrators dismissed suggestions that the flu and cough might be related to COVID-19. Many of the headteachers that URN spoke to noted that cough and flu are not strange to school.

Godfrey Kimbugwe, the headteacher of Hormisdallen Primary School says that on a daily basis, they register about 30 new pupils complaining about cough or flu in their sickbay. Despite such high numbers, Kimbugwe says it cannot be COVID-19 based on the tests conducted on some of the learners.

Rogers Nabuli, the headteacher of Nakaseero Primary School says that while they have gotten a few cases, these should not raise any alarm since they adhere to all the standard operating procedures. Nabuli says once a learner presents with COVID-19 like symptoms, they test them and immediately contact their parents.

Florence Tweyambe, the deputy headteacher of KCCA Primary school Kamwokya, says that they have been registering a few cases of fever and malaria among the learners with an average of two cases per day.

According to Tweyambe, the school can only sign a pass out for the affected learners and call their parents to pick them up since they do not have a nurse to attend to them.

Thomas Kitandwe, the headteacher of Kampala Quality primary school says that for the last two weeks, the school has been registering cases of fever with high temperatures in the lower primary section.

He indicates that being a day school, immediately they notice signs of weakness, fever and high temperature, they call the parents to pick the child up for treatment.

He however says that they only do this after administering first aid to the learners in their sickbay. According to Kitandwe, all the learners have been receiving treatment and report back to school safely with reports from health workers indicating that they had unspecified infections.

Immaculate Mayira, the secretary of the Early Childhood Development Association of Uganda, says that they have received information about the increasing cases of flu and cough among learners. She however says that this was expected given the interaction among the learners, saying there is no need for alarm.

However, some parents that we have spoken to say schools are pushing the matter under the rag yet some children have tested positive for COVID-19.

“My son developed a cough and flu and I tried treating it but it was not going. When I tested him for COVID-19, the test came back positive. When I contacted the school, a teacher just told me sorry,” a parent told our reporter in an interview on Tuesday afternoon.

This is not the first time schools are being accused of hiding COVID-19 cases. In June last year, the government closed all schools countrywide following a surge of COVID-19 cases in schools after school administrators failed to report suspected cases.

Some parents had to rush their children to hospitals to receive care after picking them up from school. The State Minister for Education, John Chrysostom Muyingo says that they have received reports about the flu in schools and have been closely monitoring the situation. According to Muyingo, most of the reported cases have responded to the flu or cough medication that they have received.

One of the conditions for the re-opening of schools was that administrators submit daily surveillance reports to the ministry of health and education about the health status of the learners. Only a small fraction of schools are filling the COVID-19 surveillance data. The information which was last publicized by the health ministry indicated that only 775 schools (approximately 2.5 per cent) out of an estimated 30,519 were reporting COVID-19 surveillance numbers.

At that time 476,910 individuals had been screened for the disease in schools with 45,298 of these exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. However, no one had tested positive for the disease. The school management was required to deliberately probe COVID-19 symptoms like high temperature, flu, cough or sore throat, difficulty in breathing, loss of smell or taste and fatigue.

And once someone presents with more than three symptoms, the schools according to the guidelines, are supposed to isolate him or her and later test them for COVID-19.  However, Prof Denis Byarugaba, an Influenza Monitor at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, says that the cases of flu and cough being reported in schools should not be a cause of worry to parents.

According to Prof Byarugaba, the flu and cough cases being reported are preludes to the expected March/May influenza season. “We are not in the peak of a typical influenza season now. The cases being reported in schools are expected since learners are at school and interacting with each other. This is normal flu or cough. It’s not COVID as some parents are fearing,” he said.

According to the professor, Uganda has two influenza seasons. Most cases of influenza are reported in the August-September season while a few cases registered in the March to May season.

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URN

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