The flu hasn’t hit the area hard yet, school nurses, hospital, nursing home and county health spokespeople have reported.
“We have only had a handful of students missing a couple of days in a row, last week and this week,” wrote Moose Lake school nurse Maureen Gassert in an email message dated January 17. “There are so many viruses going around right now.”
The school nurse, Eileen Quittem, at the Willow River school agrees.
“I don’t have the exact percentage of kids absent due to influenza,” she wrote in a message sent by email on January 18. “The first confirmed case here was on January 7. Influenza-like illness means there is a fever of 100 degrees or more, with a sore throat or cough or both. We have seen an improvement in the number of absences by mid-week this week.”
Cathy Mattei, the school nurse at the Barnum schools, sent the same information in an email message on January 18.
“There has been an increase in the absence rate at Barnum schools over the last couple of weeks due to illness but the absence rate is not atypical for this time of year, which is considered to be the cold and flu season,” she wrote.
All of the school nurses report that they follow the guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health in their policies regarding illness and in making recommendations to parents.
“Students and staff with a fever over 100 degrees are to stay home from school and school-based activities and need to stay home until they have been without a fever for 24 hours without using medicine that would reduce a fever (such as Tylenol, Advil, Motrin),” wrote Mattei. “This policy is the same for a student with a vomiting illness — must wait 24 hours after the last episode of vomiting before returning to school. As always we promote activities that to help maintain wellness and prevent the spread of illness. Students are reminded to eat healthy foods, get plenty of rest, cover their coughs and always use good hand-washing techniques.”
Gassert listed tips for parents that think their child has the flu:
– Stay home if you are ill and keep your child home from school or daycare if they are ill.
– Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
– Antibiotics will not help a person recover from the flu because the flu is caused by a virus, not by bacteria.
– Children often need help keeping their fever under control. Follow your child’s doctor’s instructions.
– Take your child to the doctor or emergency room if he or she breathes rapidly or with difficulty or has a bluish skin color.
Quittem asks that parents report the type of symptoms when calling to report a child is ill.
“When parents call to report that their child is home due to illness, it is helpful if they report the specific symptoms, like a fever of 101, sore throat, cough, rather than saying that they have the ‘flu,’” she wrote. “Flu can mean stomach flu to one person or it could mean influenza to another. I ask when messages are left to report absences to please include specific symptoms. Being specific with symptoms helps me to prepare other parents if a contagious illness has developed with a student in their classroom. It also helps me to report to the Minnesota Department of Health illnesses school nurses are required to report.
“If a child has a fever of 100 degrees or more, they need to stay home to prevent spreading the illness to other students. They can return once their temperature has remained below 100 degrees for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication like Tylenol or Ibuprofen. The same is true for vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms need to be gone for 24 hours without the use of medication before they can return. It is also in the best interest of the child to stay home until symptoms are gone and they are feeling better so they aren’t being exposed to other viruses when their immunity is already low.”
Debra Wolf, the Infection Prevention Coordinator at Mercy Hospital, reports that the number of patients with the flu has remained low.
“We have not had a high increase in the number of patients being seen in the emergency room,” she wrote in an email message on January 18. “There have been only six patients with the flu admitted to the hospital. There have not been a lot of employees off with the flu. There have been no deaths in the hospital caused by the flu. We do have visitor restrictions for the obstetrics and emergency departments. Visitors are asked to not visit if they are symptomatic with the flu, and to wear masks if they are coughing and must visit. Visitors and staff are also asked to use good cough etiquette.”
Steve Mork, the administrator at Augustana Mercy Care Center, reported that there were no cases of the flu among the 67 residents at the care center and the 11 residents of Kenwood Place Assisted Living.
“We put signs on the door to put everyone on guard,” he said in a telephone interview. “The staff is on guard; they have to watch themselves and the patients. Things could change tomorrow.”
Jenny Barta, RN/PHN of the Carlton County Public Health Department, said in a telephone interview that there are high levels of influenza activity in northeastern Minnesota.
“There are a number of deaths caused by the flu in the two Duluth hospitals,” she said. “And we have seen an increase for the demand of flu vaccine. We have a limited amount of the vaccine for people with a limited income or no insurance coverage.”
Barta said that it is recommended that healthy people that care for others, such as the elderly or very young children, have a flu shot. The flu has a greater impact on those groups of people.
The vaccine is a good match for the H3N2 for the influenza A strain, she added.
“In our last report from the Minnesota Department of Health, the East Coast has seen a plateau or decrease in the number of flu cases. We could possibly see it peak here but we won’t know for a couple of weeks. The flu came early this year, we saw our first case in October. Every state except Louisiana and California are reporting high flu activity.”
Barta said that people that need a flu shot and are not insured should call Carlton County Public Health at (218) 879-4511 for more information. The vaccine will be given on a first-come, first-served basis. A small donation is asked of those receiving the vaccine.
According to information from the Minnesota Department of Health, 476 people were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu during the second week of January (6-12) statewide. Thirty-three deaths were identified during that same time period.
Since the start of the influenza season, 1,842 people were hospitalized. Sixty influenza-related deaths have been reported since the start of the season.
Forty-six long term care facilities have confirmed outbreaks during week two. There have been 107 outbreaks since the start of the season.
There have been 92 school-reported outbreaks in week two.
Gateway Family Health Clinic has plenty of flu vaccine, it was reported by staff members.
A flu shot clinic will be held at Mercy Hospital on Friday, January 25, from 9 a.m. until noon in Community Room 1. The cost is $25 or Medicare B billing.
Pine County Public Health has scheduled a flu vaccine clinic for 1-6 p.m. Wednesday, January 30, at the Sandstone Public Health Building, 1610 Highway 23 North. Contact Pine County Public Health at (320) 591-1597 for more information.