Seasonal, H1N1 flu shots available at upcoming clinics

Red Deer residents can get a free H1N1 shot beginning Monday as the first of seven flu clinics takes a jab at slowing sickness.

Vials of seasonal flu vaccine await use at the Johnstone Crossing Community Health Centre.

Red Deer residents can get a free H1N1 shot beginning Monday as the first of seven flu clinics takes a jab at slowing sickness.

If the two seasonal flu shot clinics already held are an indication, business should be brisk for health workers dispensing H1N1 shots.

About 2,000 people turned out for the first day of seasonal flu shots at Westerner Park on Monday and although a final count wasn’t in on Wednesday’s clinic, the crowds looked comparable, Lori Henneigh, Alberta Health Services public health manager for Red Deer, said Thursday.

Both seasonal and H1N1 shots will be available at the upcoming clinics, which will run until Nov. 13.

“Certainly if you’re considered at high risk for either vaccine you should be getting that vaccine,” said Henneigh.

Those at risk are similar with both strains of flu. Pregnant woman, young children and people with chronic health conditions are considered at greater risk for seasonal flu and H1N1.

Seniors are considered at lower risk of contracting H1N1 than other groups.

Alberta Health officials are seeing a rise in infections and believe H1N1 is partly to blame.

“We are beginning the second wave so we do want to ensure that people are protected,” Henneigh said.

While those at higher risk are being encouraged to get a shot, Alberta is not planning to follow the lead of some provinces by screening to reach the most vulnerable first.

Waits at the first clinic were as long as two hours, but Wednesday lines were shorter. Those with young children might want to consider early afternoon when there tends to be a lull.

One of the reasons Alberta Health Services believes a second wave is on the way is a rise in school absence rates. More than two dozen Alberta schools have reported absenteeism over 10 per cent, often a sign of an influenza outbreak.

Red Deer Public schools have seen a sharp increase in absences over the last couple of weeks, said Bruce Buruma, Red Deer Public Schools director of community relations.

Absences has spiked about 30 per cent this week over last week when a 17 per cent increase was recorded.

“So we’re seeing a trend in an increased number of absences.

“That varies considerably from school to school. We have had one school where it was around 20 per cent absenteeism, others were in the five to 10 per cent range.”

Buruma said the district just received notice from Alberta Health Services that says they believe the increase in illness is “likely due to pandemic H1N1 influenza because this virus is the cause of most influenza-like illness that is being seen in school populations currently.”

Taking its direction from Alberta Health Services, the school district is sending out letters to parents if a school’s absentee rate climbs above 10 per cent. Letters have already gone out to parents of Annie L. Gaetz Elementary and Joseph Welsh Elementary students and a couple of other schools are nearing the 10 per cent threshold.

Buruma said since testing isn’t done in most cases to determine if someone has H1N1 there is no way for the division to know who is infected with that strain.

The school division is taking the approach that the best course of action is to reinforce the usual precautions such as hand washing and being aware of coughing and sneezing on others. Parents should keep sick children home, and if more severe symptoms, such as respiratory problems occur, they should seek medical help.

Red Deer Catholic Schools associate superintendent Paul Stewart said their division has also seen a marked increase in absentee rates this week. A rural school is tops at 18 per cent and several city schools range between 10 and 13 per cent. Yet other schools have seen no increase, although that is not expected to last.

Catholic and public school officials developed their response plans together with health officials and are taking the same approach to notifying parents. Letters have been sent to parents of children in a couple of schools so far to let them know there has been an increase in absenteeism which may be a sign of H1N1 activity. It provides various health tips and other advice.

The division also notifies Alberta Health Services when the 10 per cent level is reached.

One parent of a Notre Dame High School student called the Advocate Wednesday concerned that she had not been notified of a case of H1N1 there.

Stewart said there are likely people with H1N1 in any group, whether it’s a school or a hockey team or any other gathering.

“Alberta Health Services says it’s just another flu-like illness and we should treat it that way.”

Health Services is not testing for H1N1, nor are they notifying schools of cases.

“We can’t say, ‘Hey, we have a case in our schools,’ although we know we probably do.”

In the U.S., about one in five U.S. children had a flu-like illness earlier this month — and most of those cases likely were H1N1, says the results of survey for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday.

About seven per cent of 14,000 adults surveyed by telephone in the first 11 days of October said they’d had a flu-like illness, the survey found.

In Alberta, to get information on immunization clinics go to www.albertahealthservices.ca and click on “Find Influenza Immunization Clinic”.

Red Deer clinics are drop-in only and are as follows:

• Monday – Westerner Park Harvest Centre (9 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

• Thursday – Crossroads Church, West of Hwy 2 from 32nd Street (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

• Nov. 3 – Westerner Park Harvest Centre (9 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

• Nov. 5 – Kentwood Alliance Church, 4 Kennedy Driv (9 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

• Nov. 10 – First Christian Reform Church, 16 McVicar St. (9 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

• Nov. 12 – Festival Hall Memorial Centre, 4214 58th St. (9 a.m. to 8 p.m.)

• Nov. 13 – Festival Hall Memorial Centre, 4214 58th St. (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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