County gears up for flu threat
By Julia Green
Across the country, sniffles and low-grade fevers have led to increased vigilance and alarm in recent weeks, as national awareness of the H1N1 virus – known colloquially as “swine flu” – continues to grow.
On Saturday, Oct. 24, President Barack Obama declared a National Emergency related to the H1N1 flu, which allowed the federal government to waive specific hospital-related legal requirements, permitting hospitals to implement procedures in their emergency disaster plans that enable them to increase their ability to triage, treat and care for increased numbers of persons with the flu.
On Oct. 29, New York State Governor David A. Paterson issued an executive order declaring a State Disaster Emergency, which would provide additional personnel and flexibility to local governments as they work to implement a statewide vaccination campaign. With the announcement, New York joined nine other states that had taken emergency action or were in the process of doing so.
The H1N1 flu movement is considered widespread in the State of New York, with more than 50 percent of counties reporting flu activity. Due to unforeseen delays in production of the H1N1 vaccine, vaccination across the country has been hampered.
Paterson’s Executive Order will increase the number of vaccinators across the state by permitting other health care workers besides physicians, certified nurse practitioners and nurses to administer vaccinations after receiving training.
Alarm is also growing as people acknowledge that the bump in flu-like symptoms comes well ahead of the time of year generally designated as “flu season.”
There are no concrete numbers as to confirmed cases of swine flu in Delaware County, though health officials are saying that there is no doubt that the H1N1 virus is present in the area.
“Right now, what the New York State Department of Health is telling us is that if there are people with flu like symptoms, it’s most likely H1N1 because it’s so early,” said Heather Warner, a health education coordinator with the Delaware County Public Health Service. “We’re just on the beginning of seasonal flu that most of the cases we’ve had, if people have had symptoms now, it’s probably the H1N1.”
The virus is being diagnosed by physicians based on criteria determined by the Center for Disease Control and the New York State Department of Health in lieu of lab reports, which health officials say would flood hospitals.
“The biggest thing is, if you can say at a flu clinic that you’re eligible for the vaccine, that you get vaccinated against H1N1 and the seasonal flu if you can, and maintain your basic hand-washing and hygiene. We know that H1N1 is around us, so your best defense against it is good hand and respiratory hygiene if you haven’t been able to get vaccinated yet.”
Swine flu and local schools
Despite concern about schools as breeding grounds for germs, numbers of reported cases of H1N1 appear to be nearly non-existent at Andes, Margaretville and Roxbury central schools.
“At this point we haven’t had any physician-confirmed cases of H1N1,” said Margaretville Superintendent Tony Albanese. “We certainly have our children who are absent from school, although our attendance has been pretty steady for both faculty and students.”
While Margaretville is beginning to see a slight increase in fever and cough symptoms, Albanese said that students exhibiting such symptoms have returned to school without prolonged absences and that the school is doing its part to combat the spread of any germs, flu-related or otherwise.
“We keep monitoring; it’s really a day-to-day-type thing,” he said. “We’re certainly being diligent with hand-washing, that’s something we keep passing information about to students and faculty, and we have provided more disinfectant wipes to teachers in classrooms and throughout the building we have disinfectant foam for the students to use when washing their hands.”
Albanese also stressed that the administration is emphasizing continued contact between school nurses and parents of absent students to keep track of reasons behind students’ absences.
“We’re keeping a real close watch on it, because you never know what’s going to happen the next day,” he said. “In talking with some other superintendents, some other schools have been hit a bit harder than others, but we’re doing our best.”
The Roxbury Central School administration authorized the addition of a temporary custodial staff member whose sole responsibility is to sanitize door handles, keyboards, and other “high-touch” areas throughout the building in an effort to halt the spread of flu-related germs.
“We are encouraging proper hygiene at RCS, and are asking our custodial staff to be very vigilant,” said Roxbury Superintendent Tom O’Brien, who sent a memo out to families last week stating that the school’s absentee rate was at 15 percent, though it has since increased to closer to 25 percent. The memo also urged parents to encourage their children to wash their hands frequently and to remain home if they are getting the flu, and provided a list of warning signs.
The H1N1 vaccine
A seasonal flu clinic for Delaware County residents ages three years and up will be held tomorrow, Nov. 12, at the Public Safety Building in Delhi by appointment only. The cost of the clinic is $15 of Medicare Part B. Residents of Delaware County should call 607 832-5200 to make an appointment.
There will be a free H1N1 flu shot clinic on Friday, Nov. 13 at Delaware County Public Health on Main Street in Delhi. The clinic is open to Delaware County residents between the ages of six months and 35 months. Appointments can be made by calling 607 832-5200.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) established a list of “priority groups” for the vaccination, which are: pregnant women; persons who live with or provide care for infants under six months of age; children and young people ages six months through 24 years; persons between the ages of 25 and 64 years who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk for serious illness and influenza-related complications, including cancer, blood disorders, chronic lung disease (including asthma or heart disease), diabetes, heart disease, kidney disorders, liver disorders, neurological disorders, neuromuscular disorders and weakened immune systems; and health care workers and emergency medical services personnel.
For more information on the H1N1 virus, the seasonal flu and vaccinations, visit the New York State Department of Health Web site at www.nyhealth.gov or the Delaware County Public Health Web site at www.delawarecountypublichealth.com.