Regional health officials wait for H1N1 vaccines

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By Laura Clark

Public health officials are seeing an increased demand for seasonal flu vaccinations in addition to H1N1 (swine flu) vaccinations, which will not be available for another week or two.

“We’re patiently waiting,” said Renee Blair, Public Health Director for the North Central District Health Department including Spencer, Shelby, Henry and Trimble counties.

When the first round of H1N1 vaccination arrives, Blair said the health department hopes to vaccinate about 14 percent of the population, focusing initially on health care workers and transporters, young children with underlying conditions and pregnant women.

Kentucky has been classified by the Centers for Disease Control as a state with widespread flu. Across the state, schools in Whitley, Taylor, Todd, Christian, Barren, Oldham, Monroe, Letcher and Lincoln  counties have closed throughout the past two weeks.

There have been 382 laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 in Kentucky and one death since Aug. 1. Spencer County has reported one case of H1N1 to health officials.

Tracking outbreaks has become difficult because individual cases are not required to be reported except in the case of hospitalization or death.

Because the treatments for H1N1 and seasonal flu are the same, no further testing is being required by officials, either, except in the case of those that are pregnant, hospitalized or institutionalized.

“Most of the cases that have been tested now seem to be a novel strain, H1N1, versus seasonal flu,” said Binay Chiguluri, District Epidemioligist.

Besides counting such extreme illnesses, health officials are monitoring the absenteeism rate at local schools. Blair said overall the district is at about a 7 percent absentee rate.

Typically it takes up to 20 percent to close a school, but each school system makes its own decision. The Centers for Disease Control also recommend not closing schools, as that has proven to stop the spread of flu if precautions are otherwise taken.

“Our attendance has been good,” said Cindy Hayes, Spencer County Elementary’s school nurse. “We monitor kids who go home with flu-like symptoms.”

Hayes said parents should keep any child who is sick at home and not return to school until fever-free for 24 hours.

“I’m doing a lot of handwashing encouraging,” Hayes said. “Teachers are keeping on them about common-sense hygiene.”

Although symptoms and treatments are similar for both flus, people need separate vaccinations to protect against each strain.

The seasonal flu vaccination is currently available, although the Spencer County Health Department has made appointments for the last of its vaccine.

The Country Mart, at 913 Taylorsville Road, will be giving flu shots for $25 on Oct. 14 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.