Garfield County officials look into flu link in Rifle girl’s death |

Garfield County officials look into flu link in Rifle girl’s death

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. – The death of a 7-year-old Rifle girl last week has not been determined to be flu-related, although that possibility is being looked into, according to Garfield County public health officials.

“We are still waiting to hear the results of the coroner’s autopsy,” Jim Rada, public information officer for the Garfield County Public Health Department, said late Monday afternoon. “We have no confirmation of the cause of death at this point.”

Rada said officials were hoping to learn more details early this week about the death of the girl, who died Sept. 22 at Children’s Hospital in Aurora. She was an elementary school student in Rifle.

“There’s nothing worse than losing a student or anyone associated with our schools,” Garfield Re-2 School District spokesperson Theresa Hamilton said. “Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to her family.”

The death of a 13-year-old Summit County boy last week was determined in a preliminary autopsy to be due to complications from a pre-existing chronic respiratory condition, after he had tested positive for Type A influenza.

Most confirmed Type A positive flu cases are believed to be the 2009 H1N1 influenza, or so-called “swine flu.” However, only cases involving hospitalization are tested specifically for H1N1.

Meanwhile, area schools continue to take necessary precautions and offer advice on how to prevent the spread of germs in response to the current outbreak of flu and a variety of other illnesses among students.

Flu cases in particular are hitting somewhat earlier than normal, especially in schools.

“We are doing everything in our power to keep children and staff in the district healthy, from cleaning practices to our practices in the classrooms,” said Hamilton, who herself was home sick Monday with bronchitis.

“That goes for our staff,” she said. “If a teacher or other staff member is sick, we want them to stay home until they feel better, same as our students. And we are encouraging all of our staff to get vaccinated.”

As for parents who may feel compelled to keep their children home from school as a means of prevention, it’s important to point out that, based on information from state health officials, the current situation is no different than normal cold and flu season in the schools, Hamilton said.

“We understand that there has been a lot of information out there about the flu, but we hope that through the education we’ve provided for both kids and parents that we are making a difference in keeping our school community healthy,” she said.

Flu concerns did prompt Basalt Middle School to cancel an upcoming outdoor education field trip to Mesa Verde for the school’s seventh-grade class.

“As a result of illness and concerns about keeping kids close to their families and homes in case they get sick, it was decided to cancel the trip,” said Deborah Schoerberlein, director of the Roaring Fork School Health Centers.

“From a public health perspective we want to be proactive out of concern for the kids’ well-being,” she said.

No other Re-1 district school outings were affected by the decision.

“Our hope is that by canceling the trip it will assure people, and not lead them to leap to wrong conclusions,” Schoerberlein said.

Numerous students were reported absent in Re-1 schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt last week and continuing this week, mostly due to illness. Glenwood Springs High School had to cancel a volleyball match on Saturday as a result of many of the players and coaches being sick.

Rada said the health department still has a limited supply of seasonal flu vaccinations on hand for its upcoming vaccine clinics. The next clinic is Tuesday, Sept. 29, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Community Center. Additional clinics are scheduled to take place in Glenwood Springs and Rifle next week. Flu shots are $20 for adults and $10 for children.

“Our initial shipment was 1,400 doses, and we’ve administered about 1,000 vaccines so far,” Rada said. “We’re being told we should receive our next shipment at the beginning of the month.”

As for the H1N1-specific vaccine, supplies are not expected to arrive in Colorado, including Garfield County, until mid-October. The vaccine will likely be targeted initially at high-risk groups as determined by state health officials, before it is made available to the general public, Rada said.

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