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October 29, 2009

Flu Bug Bites Scotland County

The first flakes of snow have yet to fly in Scotland County, and already the Scotland County R-I school district will have to worry about makeup days. The lost vacation time comes courtesy of the flu bug, which forced the SCR-I district to close its doors Monday and Tuesday, October 26-27.

“With a high number of absences on Thursday, and no school on Friday, we felt like the extended break would be beneficial for our students’ health,” said SCR-I Superintendent Dave Shalley.

The SCR-I board met on Saturday to discuss the decision. A total of 86 students missed school on Thurday due to illness. The district was out of session on Friday for a regularly scheduled professional development day utilized for parent/teacher conferences.

That off day combined with the weekend, had the district already 60% of the way toward the recommended five-day clearance period to allow the illness cycle a solid chance of being broken.

The illness outbreak is believed to be related to H1NI, but health officials and school administrators agreed it is likely a combination of more than one type of virus being circulated.

“We don’t have a confirmed case of H1NI because there is no testing being done in our county,” said Margaret Curry, administrator of the Scotland County Health Department. “There is only a few sites in Region B that do the testing due to the high cost. We have had cases reported by physicians that they believe are H1N1.”

Curry added that state officials are classifying most flu-like illness as H1N1 because it is too early in the year for the seasonal flu and the age group it is targeting is not typical for seasonal flu.

“The symptoms of H1N1 include fever, chills, cough, body aches, sore throat, runny or congested nose, headache, fatigue, and occasionally vomiting and diarrhea,” said Dr. Julie McNabb of Scotland County Memorial Hospital. “Not everyone will have all of these symptoms, and specifically some people will not have a fever. If you do get sick with these symptoms it is important to stay at home away from other people so as to not spread the disease.”

McNabb stated that H1N1 flu is spread the same way as the seasonal influenza is, through respiratory droplets. Coughing and sneezing deposits the virus on other people and objects, allowing the virus to be “picked-up” by another person, eventually carried to the nose, where the virus will continue to grow and spread again.

The school closings were coupled with other similar moves in the child-care fields. McNabb indicated may be deemed necessary as children are at a higher risk with H1N1.

“H1N1 has shown itself as being especially hard on people who are younger than 5 years old, pregnant, older than 65 years, or have certain underlying medical conditions,” said McNabb.

Hospitalized people are also at increased risk of catching the H1N1 virus simply because of their altered medical condition.

“Because they are in essence confined to their beds they cannot leave if someone who is ill enters their room,” McNabb said. “They are dependent upon visitors being considerate of their weakened state. Persons who are ill, if possible, should reschedule their visit to hospitalized patients until they are well again.”

In response to the flu outbreak, SCMH has implemented temporary changes to its visitor policy.

Visiting hours are from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Visitors must report to the nurses station where they will be required to complete a wellness questionnaire. Patients in the Women’s Center will be limited to one visitor, and Inpatient Services patients will be limited to two patients. No visitors under age will be allowed.

The health department is continuing to offer H1N1 vaccinations. Curry noted that limited resources mean that priority groups guidelines need to be followed.

“These are healthcare workers and EMS workers who have direct patient care, people who live with or care for infants under 6 months of age, healthy children 2 years to 18 years of age,” she said. “If your child is 6 months to 3 years of age or over two with a medical condition we do not have any vaccine for them at this time. We also don’t have a vaccine for pregnant women, but we hope to have it in the next couple of weeks.”

That shortage may have been remedied late last week when Missouri’s top public health official granted an exemption to allow pregnant women and parents of children less than three years old to choose whether to receive flu vaccine containing a mercury-based preservative.

Margaret Donnelly, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, determined that a shortage of preservative-free vaccine was preventing pregnant women and young children from obtaining the new H1N1 vaccine.

Donnelly’s action temporarily sets aside a statute that prohibited pregnant women and children under three from receiving vaccine with this preservative.

“The H1N1 flu is now widespread throughout Missouri,” Donnelly said. “We know that pregnant women and young children are the most susceptible to this illness. But delays in vaccine production have created a situation where the most vulnerable people were left without vaccine protection.”

Donnelly urged women and the parents of young children to consult their health care provider to determine whether any vaccine is appropriate for them.

Under the exemption, pregnant women and families of children younger than three years old will be able to decide whether to receive vaccines that contain small traces of mercury-based preservative.

Curry noted that after the initial priority groups vaccination needs are met, the local health department will expand the availability of the immunizations.

“After these groups have been met we will do the 19 to 64 year olds,” she said. We have had a lot of older people wanting the H1N1 vaccine but at this time we ask that they wait until after we get the groups that are at risk.”

She said that senior adults are not listed among the priority groups for H1N1 vaccine. According to the CDC, current studies indicate that the risk for H1N1 infection among persons age 65 or older is less than the risk for younger age groups.

“It is believed that the older persons, who have been exposed to many different influenza viruses in their lifetime, may have some immunity against this new H1N1 flu strain,” said Curry. “Therefore, we ask that older people wait until higher risk groups have a chance to receive the vaccine.”

Curry said that as soon as available vaccine supplies meet the needs of the highest risk groups, they should be offering H1N1 vaccination to people 65 years and older. Curry asked that everyone please be patient that vaccine should eventually be available for everyone.


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