H1N1 virus hits county|Schools report rise in absences

Published 7:41 pm Thursday, September 24, 2009

Community Editor

As the H1N1 virus (swine flu) continues to spread through Beaufort County schools, area pharmacies and doctors’ offices have become inundated with sick children — and some adults.
Local pharmacies have run out of the suspension (liquid) form of Tamiflu, which is commonly prescribed to children and adolescents with flu-like symptoms.
Wells Armstrong, head pharmacist at Tayloe’s Hospital Pharmacy, said the pharmacy ran out of liquid Tamiflu because of high demands for it.
“There’s been a steady flow of patients,” he said.
The pharmacy is making liquid Tamiflu by extracting the powder from Tamiflu capsules, grinding the powder with a mortar and pestle, mixing it with Ora-Sweet-flavored syrup and pouring it into a prescription bottle.
“It’s the only choice we had,” Armstrong said. “Otherwise, the kids wouldn’t get it (Tamiflu).”
Sandra Nichols, a certified pharmacy technician at Tayloe’s Hospital Pharmacy, has been compounding five to six bottles of liquid Tamiflu every morning for the past several days.
By 3 p.m. Wednesday, the pharmacy had run out of prescription bottles, and Nichols was fast at work compounding more Tamiflu.
“We haven’t had any (bottles) left over for the next day,” she said.
Two local pharmacies have already called Tayloe’s Hospital Pharmacy for advice on how to compound liquid Tamiflu, Nichols said.
At Washington Pediatrics, there has been a significant increase in patients in the past two weeks, Dr. Deborah Ainsworth said.
“This week, it has really ramped up,” she said. “It’s been nuts. There’s been a number of kids positive for H1N1 and a number of kids with flu-like illnesses.”
The H1N1 virus seems to spread faster than other types of flus, and it typically lasts three to four days, Ainsworth said.
Washington Pediatrics has only been prescribing medicine, such as Tamiflu, to patients who are diagnosed within 48 hours of contracting the virus because the medicine is ineffective if prescribed any later than that, she said. Tamiflu does not cure the flu, it only suppresses the symptoms, Ainsworth noted.
The increase in patients at Washington Pediatrics coincided with the start of the school year, Ainsworth said.
Sarah Hodges, public information officer for Beaufort County Schools, confirmed that the number of absences and early check-outs at county schools has jumped in recent days.
“Recently, a couple of schools have had noticeable numbers of early check-outs and absences. At this time, the numbers we are encountering are not surprising, taking in consideration the time of year, frequency of flu in the general population and this many people in close proximity,” she said, adding that the school system’s central office monitors the number of student absences on a daily basis.
Per school system policy, students are sent home if they have a fever of 100.4 degrees or greater, and they may return after they have been fever-free without medication for 24 hours, Hodges said.
Beaufort County Community College is reporting a similar situation, according to Wesley Beddard, dean of instruction .
“We’re hearing sporadic cases — anecdotal things from the teachers,” he said.
Beddard said that some BCCC students may not be sick but are missing classes to tend to their sick children.
“We know we have some students out. Just as many students are out because their children have it,” he said.
Recently, Roxanne Holloman, director of the Beaufort County Health Department, said that the H1N1 virus is widespread in the county and that schools are not required to call in their numbers of sick students at this time.