Medical staff begins receiving FluMist vaccine
Nurses at St. Joseph's Area Health Services in Park Rapids began administering doses of the H1N1 FluMist vaccine to their fellow employees on the front lines of patient care Thursday morning.
"We're offering it; we're encouraging it," said community health director Chris Broeker. But the hospital has not mandated that employees likely to have face-to-face contact with flu-infected patients get the vaccine as a preventative measure.
Broeker said although mist-type vaccines have been widely used in other areas of the country, the Hubbard County region has little experience with them, so she understands the reluctance.
"People have to make their own choices," she said.
The hospital has prioritized its employees on a three-tier basis, said Myra Haldorson, an infection preventionist who oversees the employee health program.
Emergency room workers, those working in intensive care and other workers giving direct care to people with influenza-like illness were on the top tier. Housekeeping staffers were included in that group because of their frequent exposure to patients.
The bottom tier is comprised of employees like secretaries and clerical workers who have minimal contact with patients. In the middle are employees such as social workers who may only have lower risks of exposure.
Because FluMist is preservative-free, it has a relatively short shelf life, said hospital pharmacist Scott Kosel. Hospital personnel are taking extra precautions with the mist to prevent a mishap such as occurred earlier this week in North Dakota when 1,700 doses froze during delivery.
The vaccines are examined upon arrival and kept in a temperature-controlled refrigerator that is monitored daily, Kosel said.
H1N1 vaccines may not reach the region until Thanksgiving, according to the latest news. But that changes hourly, hospital personnel stressed.
"If it doesn't arrive until then it (the flu) may have run its course and people will have developed a natural immunity, said hospital nurse Carol Stoll.
Meanwhile, according to the latest reports, the Hubbard County region has not reported an official "outbreak" of flu or flu-like symptoms in the schools, unlike surrounding counties. Broeker said that could change quickly, since increasing numbers of sick students are being reported daily.
Guidelines specify that when three or more people in the same class report symptoms such as fever, sore throats, coughs and aches and pains, it's presumed to be a flu outbreak of some sort, but not necessarily H1N1. Cold weather has brought on a variety of viral and bacterial illnesses, hospital personnel said.
It usually takes a culture to differentiate H1N1 from the pack of other ailments, and the culture reliability is not 100 percent, Stoll said.
Broeker said the more common sense approach is a self-diagnosis. If you don't have the symptoms, chances are you simply have the seasonal ailments that arrive every year when schools go back into session and kids swap germs.
Flu shot clinics for the seasonal flu that were canceled due to shortages of the vaccine in the Park Rapids area may be rescheduled as early as next week. Vaccines are on the way.
But it is the swine flu virus that is now taking center stage.
"We've had a few cases of documented H1N1," Broeker reported to the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners Wednesday.
Thursday afternoon, emergency medical services personnel and law enforcement officers who regularly come into contact with sick persons on medical runs were administered doses voluntarily.
Because the company that manufactures the FluMist did not conduct clinical trials on persons older than 50 or seek FDA approval to administer the mist to persons in that age category, only persons under 50 are eligible to get the mist, said Kosel.
Once the injectible vaccines for H1N1 arrive, they will be administrated to the high-risk population such as pregnant women and young children, Broeker told the commission.
Meanwhile, hand sanitizers are flying off the store shelves and a whole generation of children is learning the "chicken wing" maneuver to protect their coughs.
Senior citizens are last in line for H1N1 vaccines because unless there are underlying health issues, that generation is presumed to have built up years of immunity, having been exposed on multiple occasions to a Heinz variety of viruses.
In one of the more humorous moments during Broeker's presentations to the county board, chairman Lyle Robinson questioned whether the country's money supply was tainted with flu germs, being passed from person to person.
Broeker said in a recent health seminar she conducted at a bank, she was told "the most frequent substance found on money is cocaine."