Photo: Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media
Noah Joyner, 11, said he just felt bad. Runny nose, cough, fever.
Sure enough, the Tisdale fifth-grader had influenza and this wasn’t the first time.
“Every year they get it,” Richetta Joyner, Noah’s mom said of her son, and two young grandkids.
And while she didn’t take any chances — making sure the kids saw the school-based health clinic and stayed home until they felt better — Joyner can’t help shuddering when she thinks of the high number of pediatric deaths this season.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” Joyner said. “They are too young.”
This has been an awful flu season on both a global and local scale. In Connecticut, 97 people have died from flu-related illness this season, including at least two children — 6-year-old Emma Splan of Norwalk and 10-year-old Nico Mallozzi of New Canaan.
Nationwide, the CDC reports that at least 84 children have died from flu-related illness this season.
The state Department of Public Health hasreleased the weekly 2017-2018 Influenza Season Update for the week ending on February 17th.
6,267 influenza positive laboratory tests have been reported so far this season.
1,951 people have been hospitalized with confirmed cases of flu since August 27, 2017.
97 deaths have been attributed to the flu, 75 associated with influenza A, 22 with influenza B this season, 20 in the past week.
78 deaths were among patients over the age of 65, 11 were 50-64 years of age, 5 were 25-49 years of age, 1 was between 19-24 years of age, and 2 were between 5-18 years of age.
It is the deadliest flu season in five years, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
In light of these tragedies, schools across the region are fielding calls from parents, sending kids home at the first sign of sickness and disinfecting surfaces with extra elbow grease.
In districts like Shelton, extra cleaning is occurring in all buildings. In some Bridgeport schools, parents are being reminded to keep their children home if they are sick. In Stratford, school nurses have been sending memos home and to teachers, reminding everyone to wash their hands, cover their mouths when coughing and other common sense healthy habits.
“We sent a letter home reminding parents to keep their children home when sick,” Stratford Schools Superintendent Janet Robinson said.
In Milford, the health department has been monitoring absentee rates and looking for spikes in flu cases.
“The schools are doing a really good job making sure they do extra cleaning,” Milford Health Director Deepa Joseph said.
The mood surrounding the flu is different this year from previous years, said Dr. Dara Richards, chief medical officer for Southwest Community Health Centers in Bridgeport.
“Parents are anxious and we’re getting a lot of patients coming in asking about flu vaccines,” she said.
Southwest, along with Optimus Health Care Inc., operates 10 school-based health centers in Bridgeport public schools. District-wide there have been about 136 documented students with the flu this season. Those are cases where students have presented the school nurse with a note from their health care provider.
High fever, trouble breathing
Tisdale’s school-based health clinic is run by Optimus Health Care.
There, Jessica Mauro, a family nurse practitioner has administered at least 75 flu shots, and just in January, dealt with at least 30 confirmed cases of the flu. To get the shot requires parent consent.
Between all school based health centers in the city, there have been approximately 850 flu shots administered since September.
At Tisdale, one hundred or more students have been out with flu-like symptoms or colds, said Tisdale Principal Charmaine Worthy.
The clinic can do a rapid check or a lab check which can take up to 12 hours. If positive, Mauro can write a prescription for Tamiflu if its within the first 48 hours of symptoms appearing.
“Beyond 48 hours … then it is just rest, drink lots of fluids, and take a Tylenol or Motrin for the pain,” Mauro said. “And make the child comfortable.”
She advises parents to check with a doctor immediately if the child has any breathing problems, respiratory distress or consistently high fever.
“Breathing is the really number one thing,” she said.
Students should not return to school until they have been fever and symptom free for 24 hours.
Lots of hand-washing
When she is not ministering to the sick, Mauro is trying to prevent it. She teaches students to cough and sneeze into their arm pits and to regularly wash their hands.
“We show students the proper technique to wash their hands,” Mauro said. “Water and soap for 30 seconds. back and forth. We tell them to sing Happy Birthday three times to themselves. It’s a cool trick for the kids to remember.”
In Shelton, anything that can be touched and therefor spread germs and viruses are being cleaned beyond the norm.
“(Custodians) disinfect class rooms when the students are not in the buildings, pay particular attention to water fountains, door knobs (and) desks,” said Lorraine B. Rossner, Shelton’s assistant superintendent.
The protocol will be continued until the flu season comes to an end, Rossner added.
In January, the state Department of Public Health distributed a fact sheet on cleaning and disinfecting classrooms to help stem the spread of the flu. DPH spokeswoman Maura Downes said the tips are on the department’s web site but “with news of schools closing in other parts of the country and with the flu season strengthening in Connecticut, we wanted to … proactively provide it to our schools so that they had up to date information on how to limit the spread of flu virus to safeguard students and staff.”
The fact sheet advises cleaning objects that are touched often, such as doorknobs, phones and computers.
About the vaccine
Some argue that the toll of this horrific flu season has been exacerbated by a flu vaccine that hasn’t been as effective as hoped.
The vaccine is 36 percent effective against all kinds of flu, according to information released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was only 25 percent effective against type A H3N2 viruses, which are dominating this season. However, the vaccine fared better against other virus types. It was 67 percent effective against type A H1N1 flu and 42 percent effective against type B.
Despite the high number of pediatric deaths this season, the vaccine is actually relatively effective among children 6 months to 8 years, with a rate of 59 percent, particularly compared to adults 18 to 49 years, among whom it was 33 percent effective. The CDC reported that “no statistically significant protection was observed in other age groups.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, the flu vaccine remains the best choice for preventing and lessening the effects of flu, even at this point in the season.
With flu season expected to run through March, it is not too late to get a flu shot, officials said.