The winter months can be a bleak affair in school buildings when students and staff are breathing the same recirculating air for hours.

The winter months can be a bleak affair in school buildings when students and staff are breathing the same recirculating air for hours.

Eileen Duffy, Delaware City Schools nurse, said the district tries to be proactive for flu season by encouraging vaccinations in October, in preparation for the start of the season, which rears its ugly head at the end of November.

Linda Diamond, Delaware General Health District spokeswoman, said there have been 12 reported cases of hospitalization due to influenza since Oct. 30 in Delaware County.

There has been a spike in purchases of over-the-counter cold remedy medicine in recent weeks, according to the health district.

In 2010, there were no county flu hospitalizations; in 2011, there were seven.

The health district each year encourages people to be vaccinated -- and according to Diamond, it's not too late.

"Our clinics are open Wednesdays from 7:30 (a.m.) to noon, and you can call to schedule an appointment to get your flu shot," Diamond said.

The school district experienced an early sickness peak in October when strep throat began to circulate among students and staff.

Custodians wash students' desks daily, and since sick students tend to be cloistered in particular classrooms, custodians will wash doorknobs and walls more frequently in those areas, Duffy said.

"Although we do our best to keep the rooms germ-free, the minute you put one person in the room, it's dirty again," she said.

She said students and staff are instructed to stay home if they're sick or have a fever. Students who have had a fever are asked to stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever breaks.

Duffy said although the threat of H1N1 scared a lot of people, it also got people thinking about how to keep the spread of germs down.

"It really put people on alert that we need to do a better job at protecting ourselves," she said. "We began washing our hands more frequently, keeping a safe distance from those who are sick and covering our mouths when we are sick."

Using shared surfaces, such as computer keyboards and mice, and breathing in recirculating air tend to be the culprits in the quick spread of influenza, Duffy said.

"Our new safety procedures involve keeping classroom doors closed, which essentially means you'll be breathing in the same air for hours," she said.

Duffy said she brings a spray bottle into classrooms to show students how germs from an uncovered cough can float through the air and land all around the room.

She said the best way to protect oneself from the spread of the diseases is to have a healthy immune system. "Do what your grandma taught you to do: Go to bed on time, eat healthy and take your vitamins," she said.

In addition to reading and writing, students also should be learning how to take care of their bodies, Duffy said. "The best protection is taking care of yourself and staying home when you're sick," she said.