School, health officials insist: Get flu shots

BRADENTON — While school officials prepare for the possibility of distributing a swine flu vaccine this fall, they are encouraging parents to have children immunized for the seasonal flu.

With school starting Aug. 24, the Manatee County Health Department has beefed up clinic vaccination hours to accommodate moms and dads who work during the normal business day.

Manatee County School District officials want parents to know they are monitoring the availability of a swine flu vaccine should it become available this fall.

Forrest Branscomb, district director of risk management, said a swine flu vaccine is being tested for effectiveness by the Centers for Disease Control.

And although a vaccine has yet to be approved, Branscomb said parents should know the district will be on top of it if one becomes available. If it is, first on the list to receive the shot likely will include kids and pregnant women, Branscomb said.

“We are not looking for anything along that line to happen until October,” he said. “But we will meet with the Health Department on a regular basis as we move forward to October to monitor where we are with the situation. We have not received word we will be doing any immunizations at our schools but we are planning for it in case we do so.”

During next week’s regular school board meeting, Branscomb plans to address the board on the district’s continued efforts to prevent the transmission of seasonal and swine flu strains.

Education, he said, is the key.

The CDC recommends that all children age six months and older get flu shots.

Parents of children younger than six months should get vaccinated to protect their infants.

At the start of the school year, district officials plan to put any new information they’ve learned on the school’s Web site and call parents.

“We’ll also focus on maintaining our hand washing campaign with students, especially in the younger grades,” he said. “We will talk with school nurses and directors of elementary education about beefing that up and making it a priority as we open schools.

Also, they plan to monitor all school clinic visits and will report each case of the flu to the Health Department, he said.

Susan Troxler, district health services specialist, said until a swine flu vaccine becomes available, parents should look for classic signs of flu strains: fever more than 101, cough and upper respiratory congestion.

To decrease the likelihood of transmission of any flu strains, health officials recommend washing hands before eating, after going to the bathroom, sneezing, coughing or when around anyone who is sick.

Local Pediatrician Cristian Chiritescu recommends washing fruits and cleaning desks at school.

“Kids could carry around disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer,” said Chiritescu, who owns Ellenton Pediatrics.

Just because someone is vaccinated for the seasonal flu doesn’t mean they are immune from the swine flu, Chiritescu said.

It’s unlikely the seasonal flu vaccine would protect from the swine flu, the doctor said.

Those who are sick should stay at home for seven days, starting when symptoms appear.

“That is so important in a school setting,” Troxler said. “This is a time we need to start taking personal responsibility for ourselves as well as others.”

The Manatee County Health Department, normally open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., has extended its clinic hours through the month’s end. Located at 410 Sixth Ave. E. in Bradenton, it is now open until 6 p.m.