Since last spring, parents in Lynn have been on alert. The final quarter of last year’s school calendar saw dozens of students home for a quarantine period of at least seven days because of “flu-like” symptoms. This mandatory term left several parents scrambling for childcare, which many were not able to take children with symptoms for fear of infecting others in their facility, leaving parents with no choice but to lose out on several days of work.
Across the country, schools were even closed, leaving parents searching for ways to care for and even just entertain their suddenly unoccupied children. Kids flooded local malls, movie theaters, fast food restaurants, playgrounds, anywhere where there was some type of activity to pass the time, something that would most likely prove counterintuitive to the spread of the flu if any of those students were in fact contagious.
All in all, the H1N1 virus proved to be a difficult foe, whether it attacked or just threatened to attack, and Lynn residents are looking for a way to stop the disruption and possible devastation that this strain of influenza can bring.
On August 31, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health warned the parents of Massachusetts about the oncoming flu season expected this fall, with particular cautions directed toward the outbreaks of the H1N1 virus, or the “swine flu” that is expected to re-emerge as kids started to congregate in their classrooms. They issued a general FAQ called “Information for Parents About Flu in Schools” and the public and private schools across the state have been disseminating their own information and recommendations about keeping their student and teacher population healthy.
The Lynn Public School system is even currently offering free Flumist vaccination through the school nurses’ offices. Flumist is a product name for the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV) made by MedImmune Incorporated since 2003. It is a nasal spray vaccine but, it is not the H1N1 strain. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health plans to offer that vaccine as soon as it is made available in a similar way – through the school department’s on-campus nurse’s office. The information will be made available from the schools, with a consent form to be completed and signed by a parent or guardian.
Parents however throughout Lynn seem to be taking matters into their own hands – Purell and other alcohol-based hand sanitizers litter lunchboxes and backpacks all over the schoolyards. Jessica Gahm-Diaz, a Swampscott middle school language teacher and mom of two Lynn public school age girls, tells, “We have Purell in a their lunch box, we have it in the car and in my purse.” Gahm-Diaz has also taken her girls, Aisha and Avianna, to their pediatrician for their seasonal flu shots, “And we plan on getting the H1N1 as soon as its available.”
Michelle Rowe-Savia, Lynn resident, administrative assistant at Brooksby Village, co-owner of Two Sisters Place and a mom, agrees with Gahm-Diaz, “(We do) flu shots and Purell which is the same every year. I will also have them get the H1N1 shot if their doctor suggests it.”
Not everyone is in agreement with the flu shot, but not too many people are willing to admit it, particularly after the news of the ultimatum given to New York healthcare workers that they will need to get the shot or face losing their jobs. However, it would seem that the main concern of the Lynn parents who are resistant to the shot is the safety of the vaccine and its contents, as well as the possibility of side effects.
One parent, who doesn’t wish to give their name, worries, “I’m wary of the shots, particularly because some preservatives used in other vaccines have been linked to bigger health problems, like Autism.” Although the link has never proven, according to an Ingredients of Vaccines fact sheet from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, some vaccines do contain preservatives such as aluminum, formaldehyde, human serum albumin, gelatin, antibiotics and yeast proteins to keep the weakened disease strains that make the vaccine effective, sustained.
Still it would seem that common sense is always the best preventative. Every teacher seems to be stressing the importance of hand-washing and not to share drinks or water bottles. Even the MA DPH Information Sheet recommends basic health etiquette with a twist, , “Teach your children to cough or sneeze into their elbow – not their hands! Cover coughs and sneezes with tissues or by coughing into the inside of their elbow. They should wash their hands after blowing their nose or coughing into a tissue.”
For more information and recommendations from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, visit their website for Weekly H1N1 swine flu updates, http://www.mass.gov/