(News-Press & Gazette Company) — After a two-week break, it's back to the books for schools on the High Desert.

With that, comes a higher risk of the spread of the flu virus. "We've had about five parents call today that have kept their children home because of flu like symptoms," Redmond school nurse Sue Schmidt said Monday.

Doctors say parents need to be extra aware of symptoms -- you don't want your son or daughter spreading germs. "That's how this is spread, from child to child -- and that's during the fever time, and the first few days is when they are most contagious," Schmidt said. St. Charles' emergency room has been filling up with flu victims. There have been 24 cases since Jan. 1, and doctors say, it's only going to get worse. "Just to give you an idea of the numbers, the first couple days of January, we had the same number of positive tests that we had the entire previous month of December," said Dr. Rebecca Sherer. Doctors say they've seen a big increase in flu cases lately -- but there's not nearly as many as this time last year.

But that could change. "January last year was our highest leading month of influenza, and I expect that again this year," Sherer said. Before you start assuming the worst, how do you know if it's just a winter cold or the flu?

Doctors say if it's a cold, your symptoms will include a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat or a mild cough.

But if it's the flu, you'll have a fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and a dry cough. "If you haven't gotten your flu vaccine, get it, because the vaccine this year does cover the 2009 H1N1 strain, and that's what we're seeing now," Sterer said. Remember the basics: Cover your mouth, wash your hands and, maybe most important to you and your child: Stay home if you're sick.

It's a lesson kids need to learn and hopefully practice. "We start that the first day of school, go into the classrooms and talk about good hand-washing.The kids could all teach it -- they are amazing, they really do know these things," Schmidt said.

Doctors say you should wait 24 hours after your child's fever goes away to send them back to class.

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