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Swine flu staggers Fort Dale

Whether it is the swine flu or the seasonal variety, there is one thing certain: it’s active again in Greenville.

And it’s leaving a lot of empty desks at Fort Dale Academy this week.

“A couple of months ago, it was Greenville Elementary and Greenville Middle School that were so hard hit. Now it’s Fort Dale,” said David Norrell, business manager of Stabler Clinic.

On Tuesday morning, headmaster David Brantley confirmed a total of 117 students in grades 1-12 were absent, approximately 25 percent of FDA’s student body. The majority of these absences were due to students exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Four teachers were also absent.

While Friday’s varsity football game is still on schedule, all Peewee, Termite and JV games have been cancelled.

According to Valerie Heath, in charge of Infection Control at L.V. Stabler Memorial Hospital, flu season “comes in waves,” spaced approximately one month apart.

“We saw a very active month in August, things were pretty quiet in September, and now it’s escalating again in October,” Heath said.

The good news: most of those presenting flu-like symptoms are able to go to their pediatricians instead of requiring the services of the ER or admittance to the hospital, she said.

“They are being treated with Tamiflu, told to stay hydrated and to stay home to recover. No trips to Wal-Mart,” Heath said.

Norrell said any individuals showing flu-like symptoms at the clinic were being treated in a similar manner.

“If it is severe enough, we’ll send them to the hospital, but thankfully there have been very few such cases,” Norrell said. “It takes so long to get back results to determine if it is swine flu versus the seasonal strain, the doctors aren’t worrying about sending cultures off. It appears the H1N1 is not any more severe than the regular seasonal flu, and it is being treated the same way.”

While area health care workers and volunteers have all received their seasonal flu shots, the swine flu vaccine has not yet arrived in the county.

“I’ve heard so many different things about when it is coming – I know it will be here when I see them bring it in,” Norrell said.

Heath said she hoped to see the vaccine for hospital employees and volunteers in supply by the last week of October.

After a relatively mild flu season last year, Norrell suspects this year may be considerably more active.

While 16 deaths have been reported in the state among patients testing positive for influenza since July 1, “most of those deaths were due to secondary pneumonia rather than the flu itself,” Heath said.

For the latest updates, call the Alabama Department of Public Health’s toll-free flu hotline at 1-877-377-7285 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.