EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 12, 2013

Flu continues to spread throughout New Hampshire

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — On an average day, 15 students are absent at Londonderry Middle School. This week, between 75 and 100 have been out sick every day.

Schools and other institutions are emptier than usual, thanks to the increase in flu-related illnesses.

Fourteen people have died in New Hampshire of illnesses related A H3N2 strain of influenza, most of them elderly.

But that’s an unusually high number this early in the flu season, according to N.H. Public Health Director Dr. José Montero.

As the news of a tough flu season spreads, along with the illness, so, too, does the demand for flu shots from those who put it off before the season started.

While some Bay State communities and pharmacies have run out of the vaccine, shots are readily available in Southern New Hampshire.

Medical offices are swamped, handling patients suffering from the flu and those who want a shot to avoid it.

“We have gotten probably twice the number of calls,” said Susan Chadwick, spokeswoman for Derry Medical Center.

Chadwick said their offices have averaged 1,200 calls a day so far this month, a 25 percent increase over last month.

In response, the facility has added staff and reopened its flu clinic.

“It’s not too late to get a flu shot here,” Chadwick said. “We are meeting the high demand right now.”

At Walgreens in Derry, the flu shot vaccine is in high demand. The store only had vaccines available for people 65 and older, after running out on Thursday, a new batch of vaccine is expected Monday.

Some schools haven’t seen a spike in absences, but officials anticipate that will soon change.

“I think (absences) have been normal because we just got back from vacation and the schools were cleaned then,” said Laura Nelson, Derry Cooperative School District superintendent. “I anticipate seeing changes as the weeks go on.”

School officials are doing what they can to lessen the impact of the flu.

Nelson said the district has been following procedures implemented during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. Hand sanitizers line school hallways, she said, and students are constantly reminded to wash their hands and cough into their sleeves.

Windham High School is seeing an increase in absences, principal Tom Murphy said, but employees are working to keep those numbers as low as possible.

“Our custodial staff is in full scrub mode,” Murphy said yesterday. “We are making sure the entire building is covered.”

An instructional video will be shown during the next few weeks during advisory periods.

“It’s been a much more profound impact this year,” Murphy said.

There also has been an increase in teacher absences, he said, although some continue to work with the sniffles.

“A lot of teachers are here, but you can tell some are not at 100 percent,” he said.

There has been 40 institutional outbreaks in the state, mostly in senior living facilities.

At the Salemhaven Long Term Care and Rehabilitation Center in Salem, employees are working to prevent that.

“We have got our fingers crossed, which have been sanitized,” said Stephanie Micklon, the Salemhaven community liaison. “So far, so good though.”

Micklon said all employees and residents have received a flu shot. They encourage families to reschedule their visits if they are feeling any symptoms.