Mesa State hopes to offer swine flu vaccine

Mesa State College can count a handful of its students and employees among the 793 cases of flu-like illness at Colorado colleges this school year.

So far, Mesa State hasn’t seen a single confirmed case of the ominous H1N1 flu.

The school has encouraged students to wash their hands, stay home when they’re sick and call the health sciences department when they’re sick to run through a list of their symptoms with Kristi Reuss, head of the college’s health sciences department. Reuss uses the list to screen for potential cases of H1N1.

“So far we’ve had no (flu) cases with kids in the dorms,” Reuss said.

Not all colleges have been so lucky. The University of Colorado at Boulder had four students test positive for H1N1 earlier this month, and a Colorado State University student also tested positive. Only students and staff tested at a hospital have their H1N1 status confirmed.

Mesa State will likely sponsor an H1N1 vaccination clinic sometime this fall, Reuss said.

The Tamiflu vaccine will not protect against H1N1, so a separate vaccine is needed.

Reuss said Tamiflu’s target population is the elderly, but children and young adults are some of the primary targets for the H1N1 vaccine.

“This is a different influenza because the folks that are getting it are a younger population. There’s some thought that maybe older individuals were exposed to something similar enough (to H1N1) that they have some antibodies or protection against it,” Reuss said.

Pregnant women, people 6 months to 24 years old, emergency medical personnel, people that care for young children and people 25 to 65 years old with health conditions that may face complication with flu symptoms will be some of the first to receive the H1N1 vaccine, Mesa County Health Department spokeswoman Kristy Emerson said.

The vaccine eventually will be available to everyone, she said, but target populations will get the shot first.

Emerson said the Health Department hopes to get the vaccine in mid- to late-October.

No H1N1 vaccination clinics have been scheduled at local schools, but School District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland said the district has been preparing to deal with the virus.

Kids are encouraged to stay home if they’re sick, but the rapid onset of the flu leaves the chance a student will first start feeling sick after they’ve gotten off the school bus.

If a student is sent to the school nurse and is believed to have the flu, each school has designated a place where the student can be isolated until a parent or guardian takes the child home, Kirtland said.

Each school has been provided sanitary wipes, disinfectant for high-traffic areas such as computer labs and work desks, and training for students to prevent spreading germs.

“If you ask any kid in the district where to cough, they’ll put their elbow in front of their face,” Kirtland said.

Kirtland said the district has noticed more students out sick earlier than usual this year, but he “can’t necessarily attribute that to one certain thing.”


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