Flu outbreak means early winter vacation in a few Minnesota schools

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At least two Minnesota schools have canceled classes for the rest of the week because so many of their students and staff are out sick with the flu.

In the metro area, the Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights is closing its lower school, which houses preschool through fifth grade students, Thursday and Friday, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

There are about 160 students in those grades, and spokeswoman Jennifer Arriola said a spike in the number of students who were out sick the past few days led school officials to make the decision.

Arriola said the spread of the illness is especially concerning because the building includes a nursery as well as a monastery which houses elderly nuns, and both infants and the elderly are more susceptible to complications from the flu virus.

"So we made the decision to close the school to protect our entire community," she said, according to the Pioneer Press.

The middle and upper school grades will still have class for the rest of the week. Winter break begins after Friday, and school resumes on Monday Jan. 5.

Meantime, the Alden-Conger School District in southern Minnesota has also canceled classes for the rest of the week for all grades because so many students and staff are sick, according to ABC 6 News.

Superintendent Brian Shanks said about 20 percent of the school district's students were out sick the past few days, and about the same percentage of teachers were absent as well. He told KAAL he's having a hard time finding substitute teachers because many of them have also caught the bug.

Students will return to school on Jan. 5.

The flu has been disrupting other activities as well.

A few hockey games were called off last Saturday when too many players became ill. Minnesota State University-Mankato cancelled its men's hockey game against Princeton. And Orono High School’s boy's hockey game against Cathedral was cancelled, and will be rescheduled.

The Minnesota Department of Health has declared the flu widespread in the state, and reported 185 flu-related hospitalizations as of Dec. 6. One toddler has died from the flu so far this season, according to the health department. A teenager from Owatonna died last week after suffering from flu-like symptoms, but the cause of her death has not yet been confirmed.

Health officials say this is likely to be the worst flu season we've seen in several years. You can find out why here.

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