10/20/09 — H1N1 has hit schools; seasonal flu next worry

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H1N1 has hit schools; seasonal flu next worry

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 20, 2009 1:46 PM

H1N1 has hit Wayne County schools, health officials say, while school officials caution that it's not a crisis situation.

Health Director James Roosen said this morning the Health Department has received reports that there has been a lot of absenteeism due to the flu.

"Right now, from the public health surveillance statewide, we monitor flu cases in about 120 different facilities across the state," he said. "What we're seeing is that about 95 percent of the flu cases in North Carolina are the H1N1 strain ... so we're assuming when a child has flu-like symptoms, that's H1N1 because that's the most prevalent strain."

The seasonal flu typically starts in December and January, Roosen said. A seasonal flu clinic is being planned for later this month in the county's middle schools, he added.

"That's a joint project between the school system and public health," he said. "The goal there, of course, is to protect the kids against seasonal flu, (which) at this point has not been a factor. If we can get to those kids now, there should be less absenteeism due to the flu."

Meanwhile, the school system is experiencing a slight lull before the next round of flu, said Allison Pridgen, director of student support services.

"We're not in crisis in the school system as far as I can tell," she said this morning.

"We have had absenteeism in all of the schools. For any given week we have seen one, a lot of schools have none. We have some that have sent kids home with flu-like symptoms and they may or may not have gone to a doctor. We don't have any definitive information that points to whether it was flu or a cold."

H1N1 may have already peaked, Ms. Pridgen speculated.

"When we first started tracking, when there was such a big roar about it maybe a month ago, we had one week when we had 180 that were out," she said. "That was the most."

Whether or not the cases were confirmed H1N1 is unknown, but since seasonal flu has not officially started, it is likely, she said.

In any event, the numbers have steadily gone down, Ms. Pridgen said.

"Last week, it was less than 40 out," she said. "It's not many.

"I'm sure we're going to see some flu rear its ugly head again with the seasonal flu coming through."

Oct. 30 seasonal flu clinics will be held in the district's middle schools, with information being sent home to parents this week.

District officials have tried to take preventive measures, getting information out through individual schools and on the cable TV channel, Ms. Pridgen said.

"We have kind of kept it at the forefront," she said.

As for when H1N1 vaccines will be available in the county, Roosen said it has arrived in limited supply.

"It's arrived to health departments, pediatricians and obstetricians," he said. "We have had some production problems. We have received about 600 doses of the live virus in the form of flu mist. A lot of that has already been distributed in our community."

Some of the injectable H1N1 vaccine was also received last week, but at present is being targeted at those most at risk -- children 6 months to 24 years old, health care workers and pregnant women, although Roosen pointed out that pregnant women can't get the live virus but rather need the inactivated virus.

"We're also trying to reach people who are taking care of kids less than 6 months of age. That would be day care workers," he said.