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School, healthcare system prepare for flu season

Posted 10/14/09 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when McKenzie County will be hit by the flu.
With several schools and communities in North Dakota dealing with outbreaks of seasonal flu and H1N1 cases rising around the country, it appears that the 2009-2010 influenza season is going to be a big one. As of Monday, Oct. 12, there were no confirmed cases of seasonal or H1N1 flu in McKenzie County.
“We’re preparing like we do every year,” says Steve Holen, McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 superintendent. “We try to put more emphasis on hand washing and using hand sanitizer, and as always we are really emphasizing prevention education during flu season.”
McKenzie County Healthcare Systems is also preparing for a potential outbreak.
“Residents at the Good Shepherd Home have been vaccinated because they are at a higher risk of flu complications,” says Nancy Fevold, McKenzie County Healthcare Systems Infection Control specialist. “We also encouraged our staff to get vaccinated so they are well when patients need to be cared for.”
Both the school system and the MCHS encourage people to stay home if they have flu symptoms and if you do go to the hospital or clinic, you are encouraged to use one of the available masks to keep from spreading your illness.
The McKenzie County School District No. 1 has even discussed making changes to its final test exemption to keep ill students home.
“When it comes to final testing, we look at grades and absences,” adds Holen. “In some cases this makes students want to come to school even when they are ill. At this point we aren’t making any changes, but we are discussing the policy.”
Typically, health care professionals spend this time of year urging their patients, especially school-aged children, to get a flu vaccine. But unfortunately, the MCHS and the Upper Missouri District Health Unit are out of flu vaccine, with no indication of when their pre-ordered doses will arrive.
“We, like many other communities, are currently out of seasonal flu vaccine,” states Cheryl Faulkner, McKenzie County Healthcare Systems director of nursing. “The reason for this is that even though the Centers for Disease Control were encouraging early vaccination, the suppliers were unable to meet that need. As soon as we receive the rest of our pre-ordered doses, we will notify the public through the McKenzie County Farmer. Please don’t call the clinic inquiring about the availability of either the seasonal or H1N1 flu vaccine. These inquiries are tying up the phone lines. We will inform the public as soon as we have the vaccines.”
With the vaccine unavailable, it’s up to each individual to ensure that they are not spreading the flu or picking it up.
“I stress that people stay home if they have a fever of greater than 100 degrees F, are vomiting, have diarrhea or any other influenza symptoms,” says Dr. Gary Ramage. “People with flu-like symptoms should only seek medical attention in the most serious of illnesses.”
The best way to control the spread of the flu and keep yourself healthy is to wash your hands and keep commonly touched surfaces disinfected. Other ways to help include covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or your shirt when sneezing or coughing, avoid close contact with people who are coughing or otherwise ill and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
According to the North Dakota Department of Health, infected people may be able to infect others one day before they show symptoms to seven or more days after the symptoms show up.
“If you think you have the flu, we advise you to rest, take plenty of fluids and nutrition,” says Suzanne Kostenko, Family Nurse Practitioner. “Over the counter medications should be used for symptomatic relief such as fever.”
Influenza season in North Dakota typically runs from October to May with January and February seeing the highest number of cases, so now is the time to protect yourself and your family by remembering to wash your hands and take other flu precautions.