As the calendar swings back into the fall and winter months, it also swings back into the flu season, and given the patterns seen in past seasons, Carroll County health officials recommend getting a flu vaccination in the month of October.
For parents of children in Carroll County Public Schools, that makes for another important date to put on the calendar: Friday, Oct. 12. That’s the last day to return consent forms to allow students to participate in the free flu shot clinics that will be held in schools from Oct. 22 through Oct. 25.
“We are able to provide every child the vaccines they need without cost to the family,” said Dr. Henry Taylor, deputy health officer for Carroll County. “If the student has insurance, they will bill insurance, but there is no copay or deductible. If they don’t have insurance, that’s OK, it comes from our public funding.”
If consent forms sent home with students have been lost, or parents and guardians simply find it easier, they can also fill out a consent form online immunizemaryland.org/school-clinic-consent-form.
“I know what it was like with my kids finding consent forms that came home in their backpacks,” Taylor said. “This is an online way the parents can sign up and make sure their kid is signed up for the shots in schools.”
These free, in-school clinics will be giving quadrivalent flu vaccine injections, Taylor said. Although the FluMist nasal spray vaccination, which was not recommended last year, is back on the market, he said the production and necessary agreements and contracts were not in place in time to allow for its use in the in-school clinics this year.
FluMist will be available through private care providers, Taylor said, for those whose children for whatever reason miss the school clinics.
“Don’t miss any opportunity to get vaccinated,” he said. “It could be FluMist, it could be the shot.”
That being said, according to Taylor, past clinics have shown students often do quite well with the flu shots in school.
“We’ve found that children do really well with the vaccinations in the schools,” he said. “Some parents feel they need to be there, but sometimes kids do better when they are just with their peers.”
Wherever people get their flu vaccinations, they are encouraged to do so in part due to the severity of the 2017-2018 flu season, according to Taylor.
“It was a severe year last year, although every flu epidemic in a way is severe,” he said. “Last year there were 181 children who died nationally.”
That was the highest number of of child deaths reported in a regular flu season, according to a media release the Carroll County Health Department sent out Wednesday concerning the in-school flu shot clinics. Around 80 percent of those who died had not received a flu shot, according to the release.
“It was the H3N2 flu strain, and we are expecting that same strain again this year,” Taylor said. “The Wold Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the manufactures have reformulated the vaccine so that two out of the four strains have been modified to match the pattern we anticipate this year.”
Carroll Hospital is also taking precautions, with a plan in place to help better treat those that come to the emergency department with flu symptoms, according to Karen Lee, executive director of medical and emergency services at the hospital. Should enough flu cases warrant it, the hospital will erect a large, heated tent near the emergency department and ambulance bay.
“With the volumes we saw and the amount of flu, it got to be way overwhelming last year,” she said. “So we were trying to think of a way to meet all the need should it happen again this year.”
Patients with flu symptoms would come to the emergency department as usual, be seen in triage and given a mask and a rapid test for the flu, Lee said. As long as there were no other symptoms requiring they stay in the emergency department, patients would then go to the tent, which she said can comfortably fit 12 patients.
“We would be able to medicate them with Tylenol, Motrin for aches and pains and fever and give them IV fluids if they are dehydrated,” Lee said. “Once the test comes back, if they are positive, we would give them their first dose of Tamiflu and a prescription.”
Last year, during the height of the flu season, Lee said there were often 60 or more patients in an emergency department with 44 beds. The use of the tent would make waiting for treatment more pleasant for patients with flu symptoms and ease crowding in the emergency department, she said.
Lee also noted that urgent care facilities can also test for flu, prescribe antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and provide IV fluids, as another alternative to the emergency department.
“I really commend the hospital for their planning and thinking ahead,” Taylor said. “If there does happen to be a lot of flu cases, the tent allows them, number one, to keep the people in the hospital from getting sick with the flu, that’s good prevention, and number two, it allows them to streamline their workflow so they can give people the best care.”
Getting a flu shot, or the FluMist, is the best thing people can do to reduce the impact of flu, Taylor said, but there are also steps people can take to help themselves, and others, should they wind up stricken this season. Step one being to stay home.
“Not going to work is not just helping reduce the spread, but staying home if you are sick, you are also allowing your body and your immune system to fight the virus,” he said. “Stay home when you’re sick, drinking plenty of fluids. The old-fashioned chicken soup gives you salt, protein, fats; it gives you what your body needs.”
For more information, visit cchd.maryland.gov/flu or call 410-876-4942.