The initial doses of H1N1 nasal spray vaccines for emergency medical personnel arrived Tuesday in Crow Wing County, just as a few area schools are reporting a jump in the number of students home sick with flu-like symptoms.
Dr. Peter Henry, medical director of the emergency department at St. Joseph's Medical Center and the medical consultant for Crow Wing County Public Health, said Tuesday that St. Joseph's has received about 200 doses of the FluMist vaccine. Brian Blom, director of occupational health and safety at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, said the Crosby hospital has received about 150 doses.
These initial doses will be given to only those medical personnel who deal with high risk patients, such as those who work in the emergency department, obstetrics and pediatrics, as well as paramedics, firefighters and EMTs.
Brian Blom, director of occupational health and safety at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, gave Cuyuna registered nurse Violet Mussell the H1N1 flu mist vaccine Tuesday at the hospital. Blom is responsible for the administration of the initial 150 doses of H1N1 flu mist vaccines given to the Crosby hospital for its emergency medical staff, as well as firefighters, paramedics and ambulance personnel in the Crosby-Ironton area. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Mass immunization clinics for those in the general public with the highest priority to get vaccinated aren't scheduled until November in Crow Wing County. However, some schools, especially Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby, are already seeing large number of students out with flu-like symptoms, which is suspected of being the H1N1 virus since it's too early for the seasonal flu virus.
Mindy Jezierski, CRES principal, said 49 students, or about 8 percent of the entire school population, were out sick Tuesday, the majority reporting flu-like symptoms such as high fevers, headaches, chills, stomach aches and sore throats. On Monday about 9 percent of the school was home sick. The hardest hit has been the fifth grade where nearly 18 percent of the grade is home sick. Neil Tesdahl's fifth-grade class at CRES had 13 out of 30 students home sick Tuesday.
Jezierski said normally only 1-2 percent of the school population is out sick at any given time.
"Our kids just don't miss," said Jezierski.
Jezierski said so far only one teacher is sick so the staff seem to be fighting off the illness. She said a letter was sent out to CRES parents Tuesday to remind them to keep their children home until 24 hours after they are fever free without the need for medication. She said a few parents have been bringing their children to school too soon. One parent told her she had to return to work and couldn't stay home another day with her child.
"I understand it's tough, but it's really just trying to control everyone else from getting sick," said Jezierski.
Letters also went home with students in a Baxter first-grade classroom where nine students were out sick Monday and a Riverside third-grade classroom where five students were out sick. In both cases the majority of students had flu-like symptoms, said Todd Lyscio, Brainerd Community Education director.
Lyscio said in the past week Lowell School had about 78 students out sick with a variety of illnesses, Nisswa School had about 10 students out sick, Harrison School reported normal attendance rates and Riverside School averaged about 19 students out sick, although not all had flu-like symptoms. Baxter School had three students sent home due to illness and five others called in sick while Garfield School reported nine students out sick.
Lyscio said Forestview Middle School had 12 students sent home sick last week while 12 others called in with flu-like symptoms. Brainerd High School reported an average of 147 students out ill last week, which isn't an unusual number this time of year.
Henry said St. Joseph's has had a few patients who have been hospitalized and tested positive for Influenza A, but the tests submitted to the state to determine whether they have confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus have not come back yet. Hospitals will only test for the H1N1 virus if a patient is hospitalized.
Henry stressed the importance of getting immunized when the vaccine is available, particularly young children and pregnant women.
Thirteen of the 30 students in Neil Tesdahl's fifth-grade class at Cuyuna Range Elementary School in Crosby were absent from class Tuesday, the majority suffering from flu-like symptoms. The fifth grade was the hardest hit grade level with nearly 18 percent home sick Tuesday. Overall, 49 students, or about 8 percent of the elementary student population, were out sick Tuesday, the majority with flu-like symptoms. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"If my wife was pregnant, she'd get the vaccine as long as she allowed me to give it to her," said Henry. "I feel the risks are far outweighed by the potential benefits."
Joyce Mueller, a Crow Wing County Public Health nurse, said the first mass immunization clinic will be from noon to 8 p.m. Nov. 6 and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 7 at Forestview Middle School in Baxter, with additional clinics planned Nov. 13 in Pequot Lakes and a week later in Crosby, depending on vaccine availability. Details are still being worked out for those clinics.
No appointment will be necessary at these initial walk-in clinics, but they are only open to those who fall into high-risk categories:
• Children ages 6 months to adults up to 24 years.
• Caregivers and parents of infants 6 months and younger.
• Adults 25-64 years with certain chronic or immunosuppressive conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease.
Dr. Dean Smith, a pediatrician at Brainerd Medical Center, said he is recommending that his young patients and their parents receive the H1N1 vaccine when it is available. He said he's seeing more patients suffering from flu-like illnesses.
"There's really no difference between the swine flu vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine, it's produced the same way," Smith explained.
Smith said he is seeing a hesitancy among parents to vaccinate their children, as he often sees for the seasonal flu vaccine. While he said it's true that the majority of children who will get the H1N1 virus will be sick for a few days and get over it, he also reminds parents that from a population standpoint there is a cost to the community in general in terms of missed school, further spread of the disease and an economic impact since people are not working because they're sick or home with sick kids.
"Yes, your kid probably isn't going to die from this but they can get pretty sick for four to five days," Smith said he tells parents who are on the fence about getting the vaccine. "You and your spouse could miss work, your grandma and grandpa could die from it. That's a decision they have to make."
Smith said doctors who have a good relationship with their patients can usually convince them that the vaccine is the right thing to do. He said his six children have all had the seasonal flu vaccine, which became available a few weeks ago, and Smith gave the vaccine to himself as well. He said they'll be getting the H1N1 vaccine, too.
Smith said generally otherwise healthy children who contract the flu and are sick but able to drink fluids should stay home and rest. However, if your child seems to have a shortness of breath or is in respiratory distress and flu symptoms are worsening, the child should be seen by medical staff immediately, Smith said. Children with chronic health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, should be treated aggressively so it doesn't develop into pneumonia and become life-threatening.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.