Tag Archive | "swine flu"

Pierson Cafeteria Worker Contracts Swine Flu, Students Asked to Bring Lunch

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Parents of students at Pierson Middle/High School may want to take extra precautions in the coming days to protect their children against the flu, as a cafeteria worker at the school most likely has come down with a case of H1N1, a.k.a. swine flu.

At a board of education meeting earlier this week, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto made the announcement but said “there is no reason to panic.”

Dr. Gratto noted he has been in contact with the Suffolk County Health Department. A county physician told him there was a 99 percent chance the lunchroom staff member had swine flu, but advised the school to adopt a “wait and see” approach.

Dr. Gratto added that the cafeteria employee was in contact with at least 400 students and faculty. He noted though that “this doesn’t mean students or faculty will get sick.”

School members were encouraged to continue following preventative measures, such as receiving seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccinations, regularly washing their hands, covering their mouths when they cough and staying at home if they are sick.

Because another cafeteria member is also sick and at home, with a contagious bronchitis, Pierson students were asked to bring their lunches on Tuesday.

On Monday evening, parents received a pre-recorded telephone message at home from Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols saying that the two staff workers were ill, and that no school-provided lunch would be available on Tuesday. He said the janitorial staff was wiping down counters with a “viruscide.”

“We will serve juice and milk. [But] the students will need to bring their own lunch on Tuesday and maybe for the rest of the week,” added Dr. Gratto at the meeting.

On Tuesday afternoon, however, parents again received a telephone message from Nichols saying one cafeteria worker was cleared to return to work, and that the lunch program would again be available yesterday, Wednesday.

For more information and updates, visit the school’s website at http://www.sagharborschools.org/?q=node/1026.

School Preps for Second Round of Swine Flu

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At universities across the nation, thousands of students are contracting the swine flu, or H1N1. Locally, the virus appeared to dissipate towards the end of the summer. But with Pierson classes scheduled to begin this week, school officials and local doctors are preparing for a second outbreak of the illness.

“The risk [of contracting swine flu] is going to be high when the kids go back to school. In Florida [where children start school earlier], we are already starting to see large cases of swine flu,” noted Dr. Peter Raia, a family physician based in Southampton. The colder weather and enclosed school quarters provides the perfect opportunity for the virus to spread, added Dr. Raia

Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto pointed out that swine flu shouldn’t be a cause for alarm and is more akin to the common seasonal flu than a deadly virus. When the swine flu was first reported in the United States in the spring, little was known about the new influenza strain. Schools in the metropolitan area often shut down at the first sign of a confirmed case.

This fall, the school will focus their efforts on educating students and parents about the spread of the virus. Sag Harbor Elementary school nurse, Margaret Pulkingham has been tasked with this duty for the younger children. Pulkingham admitted teaching children about the transference of illnesses is tricky, but said she uses a series of games, pictures and demonstrations to help them understand these concepts.

“One of the things I do is I have a black light and give the children a packet of fake germs to spread on their hands [the germs are an innocuous glow-in-the-dark liquid]. I have some kids wash their hands with just water, others with water and soap and others I make wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. [Under the black light] the children really see the difference,” remarked Pulkingham. She plans to make a series of presentations at morning program as well as visits to classrooms.

In the upper grades, Dr. Gratto emphasized continually updating information on swine flu on the school district’s website.

“We don’t need to live in fear of the swine flu, but we need to ask parents and students to practice common sense and take good precautions,” commented Dr. Gratto. These precautions, reported Dr. Gratto, include things like sneezing into your armpit instead of hands if you don’t have a tissue and washing hands or using an antibacterial gel after coughing or sneezing.

When a child becomes ill in school, Pulkingham or the Pierson Middle and High School nurse Barbara Schmitz, will provide the student with a face mask. The student will be asked to wait in the nurse’s office until they are picked up by a parent or guardian.

Dr. Gratto stressed that children with initial symptoms of the flu — including cough, runny nose, fever or sore throat — should remain at home until they are symptom free. Dr. Raia encourages parents to make their children wear face masks at home so as to not infect other family members. Children with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, are particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Swine flu is often debilitating, but Mary Ann Miller, a school board member and Sag Harbor parent, said most parents aren’t as concerned as they were in the spring.

“I think when swine flu first hit I heard a lot of concern from parents and many of us spoke about it together … I really subscribe to the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control and I feel so much of it is about education and getting people to understand about hygiene and cleanliness,” remarked Miller. “We will probably see another outbreak, but to me we need to watch out for the people who are on chemotherapy or who have [diseases] like HIV or AIDS, or have newborns.”

Dr. Raia expects a swine flu vaccine to be available to the public as early as October. The state department of health will distribute the vaccine to various locations around the state, including Dr. Raia’s office.

East Hampton Man with Swine Flu Dies on Thursday

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An East Hampton man, who tested positive for H1N1 Influenza A virus or “Swine Flu,” died on Thursday, July 23. According to a press release distributed by Dr. Humayun Chaudhry, Commissioner of the Suffolk Department of Health Services, this is the seventh “Swine Flu” related death in Suffolk County. County officials have yet to release the mans name or age, but the release stated he was between the ages of 25 to 35. The man had a serious underlying medical condition an was admitted to the hospital with a fever and pneumonia on July 10, said the release.
Dr. Chaudhry asked that residents continue to be mindful of the steps that they can take to minimize their exposure to the virus and emphasized that, “Those who are at increased risk of influenza-related complications should be particularly vigilant and contact their physicians immediately should flu like symptoms occur.”

Two Cases of Swine Flu at Pierson

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Last Thursday, Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto learned that two Pierson students had been positively diagnosed with swine flu — or H1N1. Despite the confirmed cases of swine flu, Dr. Gratto said the Suffolk County Department of Health hadn’t advised to close down the school. In a letter sent out to parents and guardians on Thursday, Dr. Gratto said “The Suffolk County Department of Health stated, ‘The severity of H1N1 is less than originally thought and the advice is to treat as a seasonal flu.’” He asked the community “not to be alarmed” by the confirmed cases and added that the school nurses were monitoring the student’s health.

“We have almost 900 students … [the two swine flu cases] are hardly an epidemic,” reported Dr. Gratto during a later interview. “It is a flu that is treatable.”

In fact, the Pierson Middle/High School nurse Barbara Schmitz said the two students, a tenth grader and a twelfth grader, both recovered and recently returned to school, after getting clearance from their physician, Dr. Mark Kot.

Local health experts maintain that swine flu is akin to the seasonal flu in terms of symptoms and virulence, but as of late the virus has aggressively spread throughout the county and the country.

“The swine flu is rampant on the East End of Long Island. I have seen around 50 cases so far,” reported Southampton-based physician Dr. Kot, who treated both Pierson students. As of Monday, June 15, there have been 81 cases of swine flu in Suffolk County, two of which resulted in death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 1,160 confirmed cases of swine flu in New York state — resulting in 13 deaths. On the same day that Dr. Gratto learned of the two students diagnosed with swine flu, the World Health Organization announced that the flu had reached pandemic levels and had spread to 74 countries.

Dr. Kot, however, contends the common seasonal flu is far more deadly than swine flu. He added that swine flu shows the same symptoms as the seasonal flu, including fever, chills, gastrointestinal and joint pains.

“[Swine flu] is basically an influenza virus … We treat it with the same medication [the anti-viral drug Tamiflu]. It is a relatively mild form of influenza,” Dr. Kot explained.

As with the seasonal flu, he noted the virus can be fatal for those with comprised or underdeveloped immune systems, including the elderly, children under five and people with underlying health conditions. The swine flu is remarkable, said Dr. Kot, because it is a new flu mutation.

“It is a new virus that jumped from the swine to the human population. That is why there was so much concern initially,” noted Dr. Kot.

So far, the immediate school districts surrounding Sag Harbor haven’t reported any confirmed cases of swine flu, but have noted an increase in students absent from school due to flu-like symptoms.

In a June 5 letter to the Springs School District community, principal Eric Casale said a student of the Eastern Suffolk BOCES in Westhampton tested positive for swine flu, though the student wasn’t from Springs.

The Sag Harbor school physician, Dr. Gail Schoenfeld of East End Pediatrics, reported that several Sag Harbor students have recently shown flu-like symptoms, but no other confirmed cases have yet been announced.

Dr. Gratto maintains the school is taking the appropriate measures to safeguard the health of district students. He noted that the two students were already pulled out of school before they were positively diagnosed with the virus. The school is thoroughly cleaned each night, said Dr. Gratto, and in his Thursday letter to the school community he encouraged children to practice good hygiene, including regularly washing hands and employing sneezing and coughing etiquette. Dr. Gratto added that faculty and students displaying signs of the flu should stay home for at least seven days after the first initial symptoms, since the incubation period of the virus is between one to seven days.

One unique facet of the swine flu is its virulence during the warmer months. Usually, the seasonal flu is prevalent during the winter.

“It’s God’s will. No one knows why it is spreading now,” said Dr. Kot. “And no one knows what is going to happen next year.”

Local Health Officials Say Swine Flu Over-hyped

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On Friday, May 1, Marsha Kenny the director of marketing for Southampton Hospital said there were no confirmed cases of H1N1 Influenza A, commonly referred to as swine flu, in the county. By the time Monday rolled around, however, there were four confirmed cases, including three children from Deer Park.
News of the flu’s spread from Mexico to the U.S. has dominated the media in recent weeks and the outbreak has been likened to the 1918 pandemic of Spanish Influenza. Although the tally of confirmed national cases has climbed to 642, resulting in two deaths, local health officials say the deadliness of swine flu has been largely over-hyped.
“I think to some extent it is a media phenomenon — to another extent severe infectious diseases have cropped up periodically throughout history and have caused tremendous illness. I think we are all wondering when the next shoe will be dropped,” said Dr. Fred Weinbaum, chief medical officer at Southampton Hospital. “I think bio-terrorism created the mindfulness for catastrophe. That and the modern world is shrinking. We are linked by only a few days.”
Weinbaum added that the Spanish flu, which killed millions, was significantly more virulent than today’s swine flu. Most flu strains attack humans with a weak immune system, like children and the elderly. The Spanish flu, however, triggered a hyper-immune response and afflicted healthy individuals ranging in ages from 20 to 40 years old.
The swine flu, said Weinbaum, shares more similarities with the common seasonal flu. For instance, the symptoms for both strains are relatively the same and include fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue and vomiting. Like the seasonal flu, swine flu is a respiratory illness. But unlike the common flu, Southampton Hospital officials say “the swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs that has changed its genetic composition to become a respiratory virus transmitted from person to person.”
They added, however, that the virus couldn’t be spread through eating cooked pork products.
If the swine flu reaches pandemic proportions, Kenny says the hospital is prepared and has an established emergency protocol. Weinbaum added that the Center for Disease Control would most likely dip into its stockpile of Tamiflu, a treatment for the virus, which would be distributed through local health departments to hospitals.
In the meantime, Weinbaum said Southampton Hospital is focusing their efforts on disseminating accurate and up-to-date information to the local community.
“I think the only preparation we can do is working together with local and state health authorities,” Weinbaum reported. “It’s more about getting information rapidly distributed. We are trying to dispel rumors and a sense of panic. We are trying to keep everyone from reaching conclusions based on hearsay and rumor.”
On Friday, Weinbaum held a conference call with local superintendents concerned about what to do if a student contracts swine flu. Weinbaum encouraged parents to keep their children home if they are sick, and said the same goes for school staff. He added that closing a school should be a collaborative decision between the state department of health, the county department of health and the school board. The New York State Department of Health has set-up a 24-hour toll-free hotline, at (800) 808-1987, to handle public concerns. Locally, Sag Harbor School District has posted an alert about swine flu on its website and the elementary school has distributed a letter to parents asking them to keep sick children at home.
It would appear the swine flu outbreak has yet to touch Sag Harbor directly, aside from interfering with one resident’s travel plans. Cati Van Milders was planning to spend this week in Mexico for a retreat, but it was canceled at the last minute because of the flu.
Asked if she would travel to Mexico anyway, Van Milders said, “No I wouldn’t have gone. I was a little apprehensive about being stuck on the plane and picking up something.”