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H1N1 Flu Outbreak Still Running Strong In County

School districts around the county have been asked to consider holding flu vaccine clinics for their students, but the man in charge of the effort says it’s impossible to say when they’ll be able to hold those clinics.

Oswego County Health Commissioner Dr. Dennis Norfleet’s comments come as the county has sent letters to school districts to gauge their interest in holding clinics to provide the flu mist vaccine to students. Last week, Hannibal Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio said the district was interested in providing space for a clinic, but he thought at least one or two other districts might not be.

Dr. Norfleet did not know if any districts had decided against hosting a clinic.

He said he can’t tell when those clinics could be held because the vaccine hasn’t arrived yet. “The vaccine is shipping every week,” he said. “We don’t know what we’re going to get and when we’re going to get it.”

The county and school districts are working closely during this outbreak of H1N1 virus. Districts are reporting their numbers of absences to the county daily, while also providing those numbers to the state Health Department.

The state reports that flu activity remains very high through Nov. 7. There were more than 4,000 cases of H1N1 flu reported across the state during the week of Nov. 7. There are certainly thousands more such cases that went unreported to the state.

Evergency room visits and hospitalizations remain on the increase. Four people — two children and two adults — died during that week to bring the total number of flu-related deaths to 47 since April. The four who died were in the two age groups hit hardest by the flu. Two were between 5 and 17 years old and two were older than 65.

“There’s widespread flu throughout the county,” said Dr. Norfleet. “We’ll see one district have a surge of absenteeism, settle back. We’re still in a peak phase.”

Dr. Norfleet said there are ways to fight the flu:

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your elbow, not your hands. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. Flu spreads that way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay home when you are sick, and do not return to school or work until you have been fever-free without medication for at least 24 hours.

“You don’t need to go to a hospital emergency department if your illness is mild,” said Norfleet. “Most people with the flu have mild to moderate symptoms and recover at home without medical treatment.”

However, Dr. Norfleet emphasized there are times when it is appropriate to seek medical treatment. Any individuals experiencing severe or worsening symptoms should immediately contact their health care providers or go to an urgent care facility or a hospital he said.

Signs that medical treatment may be needed for children include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Refusing to drink fluids
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea that won’t stop
  • Being too irritable to be held
  • Bluish skin color
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

Signs that medical treatment may be needed for adults include:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or stomach
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe vomiting that won’t stop
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Dr. Norfleet recommended that individuals at higher risk for serious illness and complications from the flu contact their health care provider at the first sign of the flu to see if it is appropriate for them to be prescribed an antiviral medicine, such as Tamiflu, which can reduce the severity of the flu.

Those at higher risk of serious illness and complications from the flu are:

  • Pregnant women, as well as women who have given birth or had a miscarriage or abortion in the past 2 weeks
  • Children younger than 5 years of age, especially children younger than 2 years of age
  • People 65 years and older
  • People with respiratory conditions, including asthma, chronic lung disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • People with other underlying health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, blood disorders, kidney disorders, liver disorders, neurological disorders, neuromuscular disorders (including muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis)
  • People with weakened immune systems (including those with HIV/AIDS)
  • People under 19 years who are on long-term aspirin therapy

More information on the flu is available on the State Health Department’s website at www.nyhealth.gov; and on the CDC website at www.flu.gov

Residents with questions about vaccine may also call the County’s H1N1 hotline at 349-3572 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3572. For additional information contact the Health Department office at 349-3547 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3547, or the State Health Department toll-free hotline at 1-800-808-1987.

[Note: The initial section of the story comes from an interview on Friday with Dr. Norfleet. The tips in the bottom half of the story are part of a news release issued separately by Oswego County on the issue.]