Flu returns to Kremmling school with a vegeance | SkyHiNews.com

Flu returns to Kremmling school with a vegeance

Reid Armstrong
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, Colorado

Courtesy photoGranby Play Days preschooler Allison Life practices coughing into the crook of her arm, as recommended by health experts to prevent the spread of disease. The preschool class read the book "Those Mean Nasty Dirty Downright Disgusting but Invisible Germs" by Judith Anne Rice before trying a few sneeze containment methods themselves.

In the last three days, more than 60 students from the West Grand PK-8 building have been absent due to illness, according to superintendent Kevin Chalfant. The majority of those absences have been related to the H1N1 flu virus.

“This appears to be a second outbreak,” said Chalfant.

The virus initially started spreading around the West Grand school district early in the school year after a volleyball team visited Glenwood Springs, said District nurse aide Pam Music during a school board meeting Oct. 14.

Things quieted down after the initial outbreak but, “Last Thursday and this week our numbers have spiked, with teachers and staff getting the flu as well,” Chalfant said.

About 20 percent of the lower school was sick in recent days, with the second grade being hardest hit. Only six students out of 32 were in attendance, Chalfant said, and one of the teachers was out too.

Chalfant recommended that the school board consider canceling Friday school to help mitigate the spread of the virus and to give custodians more time to disinfect the building.

The maintenance department has been using disinfectant bombs throughout the building to clear the virus, which can remain active airborne and spread through the ventilation systems. The bomb also works to disinfect manipulative learning tools in the younger classrooms.

“The incubation time on the virus is 1-5 days,” Music said.

The school board asked Chalfant to hold off on canceling any programs to consult with medical professionals about whether it would have the desired impact.

The school board said it would also consider possibly closing down the entire district if necessary.

“If we are going to do this, we should be proactive all the way,” said school board member Dave Jones.

Not everyone agreed that closing school for a day or even a week is the solution: “It just seems to be that we’re all sticking our fingers in the dam, and it’s already broke,” said board member Dean Billington.

Several Colorado schools, including those in Fairplay, have closed due to a lack of teaching staff, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that districts close schools only as a last resort.

The virus also appeared to be spreading into the eastern end of Grand County this week, with new cases being reported by several private daycare centers and preschools as well as the East Grand School District.

Vaccines and the flu

Meanwhile, Grand County Public Health (GCPH) has started administering the first doses of the H1N1 vaccine, said public health nurse Gail Van Bockern. These initial doses, which are administered nasally, will be given only to health care workers and children ages 2-4.

“I got mine and had no side affects,” Van Bockern said.

The nasal vaccine can be obtained by calling GCPH at 725-3288 to schedule an appointment or, in limited quantities, through local doctor offices and pharmacies.

By the end of next week, GCPH is hoping to get its first doses of the shot vaccine, which will first be administered to pregnant women and babies six months to two years, Van Bockern said.

She recommends people who qualify for the second round wait until the end of the week to call for an appointment.

Clinics may be scheduled next week in Granby, Fraser and Kremmling to provide vaccinations for these same high-risk groups, Van Bockern said.

The third shipment of vaccines will be administered to school-aged children, Van Bockern said.

Grand County is slated to receive a little more than 11,000 vaccines by the first week in January, and eventually anyone who wants a vaccine should be able to receive one, Van Bockern said.

The vaccination may require a booster for children under the age of nine, she added, but it should permanently protect recipients against this strain of Swine Flu.

Van Bockern added that any reports that a person can get the H1N1 virus multiple times are false.

“There are other strains of the flu virus out there, and there are many other kinds of illness going around the county right now, including the common cold and a 24-hour stomach bug, but once you’ve had this virus you can’t get it again,” she said.

People infected with the flu virus are supposed to remain home until 24 hours after symptoms subside without medication, but the H1N1 virus seems to linger in the form of a cough, said Music.

“Children are returning to school with a bad cough and then relapsing. The fever comes back,” she said.

The CDC is recommending that anyone who has a relapse of symptoms see a doctor immediately.

The H1N1 virus has several characteristic symptoms, according to health care officials. The onset is sudden, accompanied by a high fever (above 100.4 degrees F) and headache. A severe cough also appears to be a telltale sign, accompanied by a sore throat, stuffy nose, muscle aches, weakness and, particularly in young children, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

People in high risk groups that do come down with the flu may want to consider getting Tamiflu from their doctors. Tamiflu has been helping relieve symptoms of H1N1 in most cases when it’s taken promptly after symptoms first appear, said Van Bockern.

People over the age of 30, and particularly those over the age of 55, may have some natural resistance to the virus, Van Bockern said.

The resistance may have been acquired from previous flu outbreaks, particularly the 1976 swine flu outbreak, she said. The 1918 flu pandemic also is believed to have been caused by a strain of swine flu.

As of last week, the H1N1 virus had caused 14 deaths in Colorado. Nearly half of those were under the age of 18.

– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or rarmstrong@skyhidailynews.com.