‘Tis the season: Flu hits Aspen early
October 9, 2009
ASPEN – Flu season has arrived early in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.
Area schools are reporting varying degrees of absenteeism, doctors’ offices are busy and Aspen Valley Hospital is advising sick people to stay home unless they really need medical care.
The usual seasonal flu – influenza A and B – isn’t expected to arrive until December, but a wave of H1N1 flu, sometimes referred to as “swine flu,” has hit Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley, along with the usual colds and viruses that Dr. Kim Scheuer calls “the crud.”
“It’s been a very busy season – the crud, H1N1 and lots of people who are nervous about H1N1,” said Scheuer, a physician at Aspen Medical Care.
Pitkin County Community Health Services conducted its first flu-shot clinic of the season on Wednesday. It will continue to offer vaccinations against seasonal influenza and people should get that flu shot before seasonal flu arrives, Scheuer advised.
Wednesday’s clinic drew 821 people, according to Liz Stark, director of Community Health Services.
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“That’s big,” she said. “That’s more than in the last several years at any one clinic.”
Physicians are currently seeing cases of H1N1, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is recommending people be vaccinated against both seasonal and H1N1 influenza, but the first doses of H1N1 arrived in Colorado and Pitkin County just this week. The first round of H1N1 vaccines in the county will be administered to health-care providers; H1N1 clinics for the public have yet to be announced.
With H1N1 making the rounds, AVH is reminding people that most cases of the flu can be treated at home with fluids, rest and over-the-counter medications.
Doctors’ offices and the hospital emergency room have seen a number of sick people who don’t require medical care, according to Dr. Catherine Bernard, emergency medicine specialist, in a press release issued Thursday by the hospital.
“The majority of people we’re seeing are incurring an unnecessary expense and needlessly exposing others to their illness,” Bernard said. “Stay home, take care of yourself, and be alert to symptoms that might require medical treatment.”
The hospital isn’t seeing large numbers of patients coming in with the flu, said spokeswoman Ginny Dyche. Rather, it’s a few people each day.
“At this time of year, we’re not usually seeing flu at all,” Dyche said.
Pregnant women and those with a chronic disease such as asthma, diabetes, cancer or heart disease should seek medical care. Anyone who has difficulty breathing, is unable to drink liquids, or becomes severely ill should also seek medical attention from a physician or the hospital emergency room, AVH advised. The After-Hours Medical Care in Basalt is also available on evenings and weekends.
When the H1N1 vaccine is available to the public, the state has made vaccinating young children a top priority, according to Stark. After health-care providers, priority groups include pregnant women, caregivers of children under 6 months of age, children of 6 months to 5 years, those age 5 to 18 who have a chronic medical condition, and then anyone in the 5-to-21 age group.
Already, youngsters with flu-like symptoms have led to a spike in absentee rates at area schools. In addition, strep throat has run its course in Aspen schools, according to Superintendent Diana Sirko.
Aspen High School has had about 170 students out with flu-like symptoms since the school year began Aug. 21, according to Principal Charlie Anastas. That’s out of a student body numbering 530.
“To have 170 out with the flu, that’s a lot,” he said.
The illness seems to have peaked, though, and fewer students are staying home sick, Anastas said.
“We’re back to what I would call typical absentee rates,” Sirko agreed.
Neither Aspen Community School in Woody Creek nor Aspen Country Day School have seen unusual absentee rates so far, officials at the schools reported, but Basalt schools were apparently hard hit.
Basalt Middle School had roughly 80 of its 430 students out at one point last week with illness, said Principal Jeremy Voss. Students with flu-like symptoms and strep throat have both been reported, he said. Attendance this week has been closer to normal.
“Hopefully, it’s our one and done for the year,” Voss said.
Children who have flu-like symptoms – particularly fever and possibly a sore throat, coughing, fatigue and body aches – should be kept at home until the fever has subsided for 24 hours without the assistance of medication, medical professionals advise. Frequent hand washing or use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer are also recommended, as is coughing or sneezing into a sleeve or tissue (not your hands), according to AVH.