Officials on alert for H1N1 virus

WINSTED — While Laurel City schools were not experiencing a severe outbreak of the H1N1 (swine flu) virus at press time, schools across the state have reported significant outbreaks, putting officials on alert for signs of the disease.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell asked the state Department of Public Health last week for an inventory of anti-viral medication in Connecticut and urged federal health officials to immediately release a second round of anti-viral medication from the Strategic National Stockpile. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised Connecticut’s flu activity classification to “widespread,†the highest level of activity, on Oct. 29.

“In one week, we have seen a dramatic increase in suspected cases of the H1N1 flu across the state, and it is vital that our hospitals and pharmacies have enough Tamiflu and Relenza on hand to meet any surge in demand,†Rell said.

In Winsted, several students at Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NCCC) have missed classes this week, but school President Barbara Douglass said she hasn’t noticed a significant problem.

“What we’re finding is not any more unusual than the ordinary seasonal flus,†she said. “Last week we had a couple faculty out but nothing of an epidemic proportion of all. I don’t see any kind of closure of the school coming.â€

Douglass said NCCC students are in a somewhat safer environment than in many public schools.

“I think we have a little bit of an advantage over other places because we’re in 10 separate buildings and we’re taking precautions with hand sanitizers all over campus,†she said.

In April, the CDC provided Connecticut with more than 130,000 treatment courses of antiviral medication, or 25 percent of the state’s SNS allocation for distribution to acute care hospitals and community health centers. The drugs, either Tamiflu or Relenza, are administered in the early stages of the illness and lessen the severity and duration.

“The number of people coming down with the flu is growing rapidly, and we must take precautions,†Rell said. “This includes our request for the immediate release of more of Connecticut’s share of Tamiflu and Relenza from the national stockpile for those who develop influenza-like illness.â€

The drugs interfere with the ability of the virus to make copies of itself, which in turn helps the body fight the infection. Each treatment course is a 10-day supply of either Tamiflu or Relenza.

Douglass said Tuesday that the college remained in good health.

“Right now we don’t see anything that I would signify as alarming, but if you don’t feel well and you have flu symptoms, stay home,†she said.

For more information on H1N1 resources in Connecticut call the H1N1 hotline at 800-830-9426 or visit ct.gov/ctfluwatch.

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