H1N1 - The local battlefront

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
October 29th, 2009

The question of the week seems to be what’s scarier H1N1 or your child’s Halloween costume? Conversations around town in the past few weeks have rarely skirt around the Swine flu topic. Sometimes scaring folk and sometimes just plain funny in their ridiculousness yet believability the stories circulating around town on the subject only prove the level of anxiety around the illness.

This week the Telegraph’s story meeting turned up a potential lead that begged of laughter yet given the circumstances could just be true. The story itself was of a single mother in town stricken with H1N1, not wanting to go out in public for fear of spreading the bug and (queue the suspenseful music) was out of food at home. As the story went, desperate for food Ferraro’s graciously obliged to open the store after hours for her to grocery shop as she was followed around by staff in masks wiping down everything she touched. As crazy as it sounded the above and beyond service from Ferraro’s wouldn’t surprise many of us and in the Kootenays it would hardly even rate on the scale of unusual occurrences.

As a writer it always feels good to get one story written and off the to do list early in the week. Calling up Ferraro’s hot lead in hand my hope of a quick scoop was sadly dashed when the staff answering the phone and then the store manager both hadn’t heard of my story. Shortly thereafter another conversation on Columbia Avenue brought up the hair-raising “fact” that J.L. Crowe had an outbreak of H1N1 and was at 10% absentee rates at which point they would close the school. Another hot lead.

Dave Derosa, principle of J.L. Crowe gave me the real scoop. While not exactly true, this lead had slightly more merit than the diseased mystery shopper.

“Things are pretty much as normal as far as absentees go. We have had one confirmed case of H1N1 in the school,” explained Derosa. Of the 10% absentee rate shutting down the school he added “Well yes, but not so much to do with H1N1 in particular. When we reach a 10% absentee rate of students specifically of illness, about 80 students, then we have to contact our local health authority. They would ask us questions about what do w know about the kids and such. They then have the process to determine whether the school should be closed or not and it remains within their authority.”

Getting staff students at the school to sign on to the basic active prevention methods of washing hands, coughing into elbows, not sharing water bottles and such has been relatively easy according to Derosa. “The teachers are really on board with this as they have a strong personal interest in not getting sick of course. The bulk of what we’re doing is really regularly reminding kids of all of the basics for avoid colds and flu’s. We also are trying to break the image of the flag waving cold martyr you know. Stay home if you’re sick!”

Up the hill in Rossland at RSS the absentee rate has been noticeably affected this year but still hasn’t strayed far from the normal numbers according to RSS Principle Terry MacDonnell. “It has its days where it’s up and down. I haven’t been notified of the exact numbers or if we’ve had to call the health authority for being over the 10% absentee mark but we may have been over that number on a couple of days this year. Other than that it’s pretty much normal.”

Known cases of H1N1 at RSS have been limited so far to one case. Gauging the actual level of Swine flu cases solely on the reported/known cases however it not an accurate measurement according to an Interior Health media enquiries representative over the phone.

“We’re not actually posting confirmed cases for each area. It’s only IH wide and if you look on the website it only shows the number of serious cases and deaths. The reason for that is that the number of confirmed cases doesn’t reflect what is actually happening in the community. Doctors are actively being asked not to swab or test if the flu like symptoms seem classic otherwise it would overwhelm the labs. We’re only testing for serious cases. We do know that the H1 N1 virus is the only flu virus circulating right now. Chances are if someone is sick with flu like symptoms it’s likely H1N1. So the number of cases of people who have it is likely far higher than the number of confirmed cases simply because we’re not testing people to confirm it.”

Interior health expects that there will be a large demand in the region for the vaccinations which begin today in the Kootenays. The first site offering vaccinations as of Thursday the 29th is in Creston. The Trail site will be operating Wednesday November 4th in the Cominco Gym from 9:30 to 4:00. More information on the vaccination program, sites and dates can be found on the Interior Health website here http://www.interiorhealth.ca/2009FluClinics.aspx

With huge line-ups being seen in other areas of the country and around the world Interior Health is expecting the clinics in this region to be just as busy.

“Creston has just started about an hour ago and I haven’t heard from them in the last little bit on how it’s going,” added the Interior Health media enquiries rep. “So far though it hasn’t been overwhelmed. I would have expected it would be busier but it is still the first day so it will be interesting to see who shows up.”


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