With a flu epidemic sweeping the country causing hundreds of deaths, Missoula County Public Schools sent a message to parents and staff with tips on how to prevent children from getting the flu.

Communications Director Hatton Littman said even though the flu has been severe in many parts of the country, it has not been a major problem in Missoula.

“When we have easily spread communicable diseases, we tend to do this as part of our regular practice every year,” Littman said. “We do the same thing when chicken pox or pertussis might be going around, and in this care it’s the flu.”

Littman said the message emphasized common sense advice.

“Hand washing is the first and best line of defense,” she said. “We also remind folks to try to cough into their elbow rather than into the air, and try to avoid throughout the day touching the ‘T’ zone, which is our eyes, our nose and our mouth. These are all easy ways to limit our exposure to viruses like the flu that might be living on surfaces around us.”

Littman said if a child or a teacher shows signs of having the flu they should definitely be kept home.

“First, we recommend a visit to a healthcare provider or a clinic,” she said. “There are flu tests that are available, but if students are exhibiting a fever, or they have other symptoms like lethargy and all over body aches, vomiting or diarrhea, you should keep a student out of school until the symptoms are completely gone.”

Littman said flu shots are still recommended for those who have not had them, and are available at clinics, hospitals and many pharmacies.