Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle has closed until Friday because about 10 percent of its students are ill.

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Bishop Blanchet High School, a private Catholic school in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood, had so many students absent Tuesday that officials decided to close until Friday.

Principal Kristine Brynildsen-Smith said more than 150 students were out, most with the flu and a few with whooping cough. The outbreak came on suddenly, she said, with more than 50 percent more absences Tuesday than on Monday.

With more than 10 percent of the school’s 1,000 students out, school officials called Public Health — Seattle and King County, seeking guidance.

Public Health’s communicable-disease chief, Dr. Jeff Duchin, diagnosed the disease as influenza, given the school’s description of symptoms and the speed of the outbreak. According to Duchin, whooping cough has a longer incubation period than flu and rarely results in a sudden, high absentee rate, said James Apa, public-health spokesman.

Brynildsen-Smith said that along with flu, the school had six confirmed cases of pertussis, including one faculty member. She said health officials encouraged the school to disinfect surfaces and to urge students to get immunizations for flu and pertussis — the official name for whooping cough.

Normally, public-health officials do not advise closures because of absences, Apa said, because by the time there are high absentee rates, exposure has pretty much run its course. What they do advise are the staples of disease containment: Wash your hands, cover your cough and stay home if you’re sick.

But, Apa said, health officials leave it to schools to decide the best course of action. “We understand that the schools for their own reasons may decide to close, and we support their decision,” Apa said. “We do not recommend or mandate closures.”

Flu is still circulating in the county, Apa said, but cases are dropping. “We’re on the other side of the mountain and heading down, but flu is still around,” he said.

Whooping cough, though apparently not the main culprit in the Blanchet outbreak, is at an all-time high around the state. More than 1,100 cases have been reported in the state this year — 10 times as many were reported at this time last year.

The state Department of Health is providing 27,000 doses of vaccine and launching a $90,000 public-awareness campaign, according to The Associated Press. It’s also asking the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for help.

Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or

On Twitter @costrom.