A Jefferson City school and others in Missouri soon could be part of a growing national effort by a San Francisco-based health technology company to better track and respond to common contagious diseases in schools during cold and flu season.
Kinsa is a company that makes thermometers. Nita Nehru, director of Kinsa's "FLUency" program, said local consumers might recognize some of the company's products at retailers like Target, CVS, Best Buy and Amazon.
The Smart Stick in particular sells for $19.99, but Nehru said families whose children go to schools that participate in FLUency receive the smartphone-synced thermometer for free, along with access to Kinsa's smartphone app.
FLUency is a 3-year-old program that offers parents Kinsa's technological support system free of charge "to help track and stop the spread of illness in the classroom," Nehru said.
Once the thermometer takes a reading of a child's temperature, she said, the app tells parents what to do next based on the child's age and level of fever.
Beyond that, through the app, all families at a given school are connected to a group where children's symptoms and diagnoses can be shared in real time — without any identifying personal information.
"We do not diagnose anything," she noted, but the real-time epidemiological tracking can help parents take effective courses of action for a sick child.
She cited an example from a Kansas City-area school the company learned about from a mother's thank-you email. The child had suddenly developed a high fever, and because she knew from the app that the influenza A virus had been positively diagnosed in other children at her child's school, rather than waiting, the mother immediately took her child to see a doctor. The doctor gave a positive diagnosis for influenza, and the child was able to begin taking the flu anti-viral Tamiflu in a timely manner.
Flu-like symptoms are almost universal indicators of a number of infections and conditions, though.
Nehru said the app can help track strep throat, the common cold, pink eye, impetigo, whooping cough and stomach flu.
"We just earlier this year were able to prove that our data we're collecting does match very well with the CDC's data," she said in comparison to the "gold standard" of disease surveillance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kinsa has not yet shared any data with public health agencies, she added, but "we are starting to get into conversations."
If or when the aggregated information is shared with public health agencies, the real-time data could help keep pharmaceutical and other products like orange juice extra-stocked in specific areas experiencing cold and flu outbreaks, Nehru said.
Teachers and school nurses can nominate their schools to participate in FLUency at kinsahealth.com/missouri.
Nehru said 1,200 applications nationally yielded participation from 100 schools in the program's first year. In its second year, 300 schools participated out of about 2,300 applications. This year, she anticipates about 350 schools to be involved nationally, with 50 from Missouri.
The company is focusing heavily on Missouri because the state's schools have been "fantastic performers" with engaged parents and school nurses who are strong advocates, Nehru said.
The app currently is available only in English, so while there are plans to translate it into other languages, the characteristics of a school's student population are another consideration in evaluating an application, along with phone conversations with whomever nominated a school about their goals and reporting systems.
Once cold and flu season ends, parents get to keep the thermometers, and the school's symptom and diagnosis-sharing group in the app will remain live.
Nehru could not name a private Jefferson City school whose FLUency program application has been approved but has not yet responded to the company to say if it will participate.
Kristen Marion, a public relations representative for Kinsa, said the company encourages other Jefferson City schools to apply.
A sponsorship from the Clorox Company has enabled FLUency to expand, Nehru said.
The CDC reported as of Oct. 21, Missouri had not seen a positive case of influenza in the preceding two weeks. Cold and flu season is just getting started, though. In the same two weeks, influenza cases increased almost 200 percent nationally, from 94 to 279 positive test results noted by the CDC's viral surveillance network.