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Flu outbreak came fast and furious; vaccine available

Flu shot at MCH

(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Flu shot at MCH (Staff photo by Dave Anderson) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

PETERBOROUGH — While the level of flu cases in New Hampshire isn’t high enough for elected officials to declare states of emergency like in Massachusetts or New York, the flu season so far is more severe than in recent years. And with 14 deaths having been reported statewide, people are being encouraged to get flu shots.

“We’re seeing a lot of respiratory and fever patients, probably in line with the rest of the state,” said Donna Pearce, an infection preventionist at Monadnock Community Hospital, on Monday. “The state keeps the total counts of influenza-like illnesses and as of last week, there were so many reports that the state stopped doing influenza testing. We assume it’s influenza and we treat the symptoms.”

Those symptoms include fever, body ache, sore throats and coughing, Pearce said. Fever is a key symptom, usually developing quite rapidly.

“It comes on just like that,” Pearce said. They symptoms usually run their course in about five days, she said, and there’s no easy remedy.

“We tell people to stay home. Don’t go to work or to school. Take Tylenol or Motrin. Contact your physician’s office by phone rather than just going in.”

She said regular handwashing and staying home are the best remedies.

“You’re going to feel really crummy for five days, “ she said.

Pearce said the elderly, people with chronic illnesses and those being treated for cancer are among the most vulnerable to the flu. For them, a visit to the emergency room may be in order, but most people are encouraged not to use the emergency room, in order to reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease.

According to the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, the predominant strain of influenza that is circulating in New Hampshire and across the country is Seasonal A H3N2.

“The amount of illness we are seeing here in New Hampshire is not yet to the point of alarming,” said Dr. José Montero, the state’s public health director, in a statement on Friday. “However, it is cause for serious concern especially since we have now seen 14 influenza related deaths so far this season, which is unusually high for this early in the season. It’s important for people to remember to take steps to prevent becoming ill, most important is vaccination. It can take up to two weeks for your immune system to fully respond to the vaccine so it’s important to get the shot or nasal version of the vaccine as soon as possible.”

Pearce said there has been a high demand for flu shots, and the hospital does have the vaccine available.

“We’ve had no indication that we are running out,” she said. “Our supply should be sufficient for what we need.” She said the vaccine has been developed for the strain of flu that is being seen this year in New Hampshire and it will not lead to a mild case of flu symptoms.

“The shots use dead organisms,” she said. “There’s no chance to get influenza.

Because the vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in, a person might still get the flu, according to Pearce.

“If you get sick, you probably had the flu already by the time you got the shot,” she said.

Hospital officials are encouraging patients to call their primary care physicians to arrange flu shots, which are generally covered by medical insurance. People can also make an appointment for a shot at the hospitals’ Occupational Health Department. Those shots cost $25 and are not covered by insurance.

On Monday morning, neither the Rite Aid pharmacy or the CVS pharmacy in Peterborough had flu vaccine available, although there were signs in the windows at both locations urging people to come in for shots. Pharmacists at both businesses said they are supposed to get more vaccine shortly.

Pearce said the hospital has anyone with flu-like symptoms wear a protective mask, and mandates that staffer members wash their hands frequently and cough in a safe manner. Employees are encouraged, but not required, to get flu shots and any workers with fever, vomiting or diarrhea are not allowed to work.

According to the Dept. of Health and Human Services, there have been 40 institutional outbreaks reported in New Hampshire, the majority occurring at nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Joanna Kennedy, the administrator at the Scott-Farrar Home in Peterborough, said a number of residents there had bad colds and coughs last week.

“We have five or six people down with that. We don’t think it’s flu, but it’s flu-like symptoms,” she said. Staff people are wearing masks when working with those residents.

“With precautions, we seem to have kept it under control,” Kennedy said. “It’s better today than it was last week. We seem to have seen the worst of it.”

At Summerhill, an assisted living facility in Peterborough, administrative assistant Gary Leblanc said they have not had anyone with flu-like symptoms, but they are being cautious.

“We have signs up, asking people with colds to come back another time to visit,” Leblanc said. “We have hand sanitizers in place. We’re asking people to take precautions.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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