Pandemic panic

Published 10:01 pm Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith isn’t sure if it’s a record-high, but more than 100 students were absent at Charles Henderson Middle School Wednesday.

Overall, the system had a 10.8 percent absentee rate Wednesday, up .8 percent from Tuesday.

At CHMS alone, that means 105 students were absent, and while Felton-Smith said she can’t be sure all of them were out with flu-like symptoms, it certainly is a cause for concern.

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“I would say the number of students absent is reason for concern because it is not typical to have that many students out on a given day,” Felton-Smith said.

In light of influenza making its way through Troy City Schools, Felton-Smith said closing doors is certainly something the system is monitoring. But, as of today, there are no plans to close just yet.

“Right now we are continuing to monitor, and we will monitor on a daily basis so we can have all this information,” Felton-Smith said. “We check absences the first thing in the morning and have periodic checks throughout the day.”

Felton-Smith said the number of students absent at the middle school is much higher than the other two schools in the system.

Pike County Schools, on the other hand, haven’t experienced the same high absences as Troy.

“We have no report of excessive absences,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell.

Debbie Baker, Pike County Health Department’s clinic

supervisor, said she has no numbers on how many have swine flu locally, but some of that is just because they’ve stopped reporting.

“We’re going away from reporting numbers because we’ve gotten so many,” Baker said.

Baker said the local health department is still accepting specimens from local providers to be tested, but some local doctors aren’t even submitting those tests anymore.

“We are treating everyone with a positive flu A as if they have swine flu,” said Pam Smith, quality assurance and risk manager at SARHA Doctors Center.

And that plan is probably pretty solid, since Baker said 99 percent of those tested for H1N1 since July have yielded positive results.

Smith said SARHA has had an influx of patients in recent days, but they aren’t alone.

“It’s not only our office. It’s other offices here in Pike County,” Smith said.

Lenny Nasca, Troy Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Room director, said the ER has also seen an increase in flu patients, particularly this week.

“This past week, we’ve had a big increase for people testing positive for flu in the ER,” Nasca said. “People are testing positive for Type A, which is the first leg for swine flu.”

Both Nasca and Smith said the flu virus hitting this early is a concern, though not necessarily a cause for panic.

“People don’t need to panic, but if you are sick stay at home,” Smith said.

“It’s hitting earlier than what we thought, and the vaccines won’t be here until late September or October,” Nasca said.

Baker said the health department hasn’t released any information on exactly when vaccines will be available, and she said she’s also not sure which type of flu shots will be given this year.

On a positive note, the flu cases that have hit Pike County have so far been fairly mild, Baker said.

Nasca said swine flu hitting this early in the year may be telling of a harsh flu season.

But Smith said she doesn’t think this early outbreak necessarily means flu season will be any different.

“This is different than just regular flu season. This is swine flu,” Smith said. “So, I wouldn’t say the regular seasonal flu is going to be any worse than it has in the past. It’s just bothersome it’s here so fast.”