If you want some tips on how to prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, just ask a local Catholic-school student.
Since a new flu strain called H1N1 that disproportionately affects young people has been circulating nationally, local Catholic-school students all have been taught how to help prevent spreading the virus as well as other diseases, according to Anne Willkens Leach, superintendent of diocesan Catholic schools.
The tips students have learned include:
Willkens Leach said she also has met with principals of all Catholic schools in the diocese to discuss how they would handle a widespread flu outbreak, and that principals have received packets on the H1N1 virus containing information from the diocese and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Decisions about potential flu-related school closings will be made in consultation with the public-school districts that provide busing for Catholic-school students, she said.
“We will work with the school districts we are in,” Willkens Leach said.
Other organizations likewise are planning ahead. At St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell, officials have asked individuals mildly sick with the flu not to visit the emergency department. If the hospital receives a high volume of severe flu cases, officials plan to open an off-site location for flu patients to prevent the spread of the disease to other patients at the hospital.
Organizations also are trying to help people prepare by encouraging widespread vaccination.
“The most important and best protection against a viral infection is to be vaccinated against a particular virus,” said Dr. Carlos R. Ortiz, senior vice president of medical services for Thompson Health in Canandaigua.
People seem to be heeding the advice. Due to a major spike in demand for seasonal flu shots, a host of area clinics have been cancelled due to vaccine shortages. Among those cancellations were all remaining seasonal-flu shot clinics at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira and other locations throughout the diocese.
Yet many organizations note that they will schedule new clinics if they receive additional seasonal-flu vaccine. Some health-care providers also have received shipments of the H1N1 vaccine. County health departments have up-to-date information on clinics scheduled for both seasonal and H1N1 vaccinations
Vaccination for both the seasonal flu and H1N1 are recommended because the origins of the two viruses are very different and the viruses affect different populations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than half the hospitalizations due to H1N1 occur in people younger than 25, and an additional 40 percent of hospitalizations are in people ages 25 to 64. By contrast, about 60 percent of hospitalizations for the seasonal flu occur in people 65 and older.
Since April, 86 confirmed pediatric deaths have occurred from H1N1. During the week of Oct. 4-10, for instance, the CDC received reports of 11 flu-related pediatric deaths, with 10 of those deaths confirmed related to H1N1. However, CDC officials note that not all states are reporting H1N1 hospitalizations and deaths.
EDITOR’S NOTE: H1N1 is the topic of an hour-long special edition of the medical television series “Second Opinion,” produced in Rochester by public television station WXXI-TV, the University of Rochester Medical Center and West 175 Productions. The episode can be viewed online at www.secondopinion-tv.org/episodes/H1N1_special/.