UW Health: Oregon flu cases will be tracked by Wisconsin researchers

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MADISON- The Oregon School District becomes a laboratory next month for a research project designed to identify early signs of flu outbreaks in communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded $1.5 million over three years to a research team headed by Dr. Jon Temte, professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Under the Oregon Child Absenteeism due to Respiratory Disease Study (ORCHARDS), the team will follow trends in student absences from school, test ill students for flu and other respiratory viruses and compare the data to clinic activity and various flu surveillance reports in Wisconsin. Temte will begin monitoring student absences on January 5.

“We want to determine what role influenza plays in absenteeism and then correlate that to influenza data in the clinics to see what patterns emerge,” said Temte, a long-time resident of Oregon. “If the project is successful, the new system may serve as an early predictor of flu outbreaks in communities.”

Parents who call the Oregon School District’s absentee telephone line to report a child’s illness will get an automated message about the study. The message directs those interested in participating to call the study phone number for a brief phone interview. If the child is eligible, a member of the research team makes a home visit to collect information on symptoms and to take nose and throat specimens. One specimen will be tested with a rapid influenza test. The other specimen is sent to the State Laboratory of Hygiene for molecular testing that can detect 17 respiratory viruses. The rapid and molecular tests are then compared to determine the virus that caused the student absence.

Temte says the population of school children poses advantages for surveillance because viruses are common and spread quickly in that population.

The Oregon School District has about 4000 students. Temte hopes to recruit 500 each year over the three-year study.