Three more kids die from flu in Colorado | SummitDaily.com
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Three more kids die from flu in Colorado

Kimberly Nicoletti

SUMMIT COUNTY – Three more children have died from the flu in Colorado, bringing the state’s total number of pediatric flu-related deaths to eight. Meanwhile, many Summit County schools – especially in Breckenridge – have seen an increase in absences in the last couple of weeks.

Flu-related deaths

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported three new deaths on the southern Front Range this week. The children were 14 months, 20 months and 11 years old.

The 11-year-old had a significant underlying medical history and died after almost a week in intensive care. The other two children were previously healthy. One died suddenly at home, and one died in the emergency department, said Cindy Parmenter, director of communications at the state health department.

“This year is a moderately heavy year with more deaths of children, and we’re having more flu cases,” Parmenter said.

In an average year, zero to three children die from the flu. The health department reports children’s deaths immediately, but it takes months to report adult deaths because the department waits for releases of death certificates.

Last year, a total of 19 people died from the flu and 741 died from the flu and pneumonia, Parmenter said. Two of those were children.

Local outbreaks

Most schools throughout Summit County have noticed an increase in absences lately.

The flu has hit hardest at Little Red Schoolhouse and Carriage House Early Learning Center preschools in Breckenridge. Little Red had 27 out of 47 preschoolers out during Thanksgiving week, but last week it was “back to normal,” said director Alison Earnesti. Most kids experienced a high fever that lasted four to six days, a bad cough and body aches, she said.

The flu came earlier to Carriage House.

“We got hit the week of Nov. 17 pretty hard, and then Thanksgiving week got better,” said Kathy Grotemeyer, executive director.

At its worst, only three out of 21 toddlers made it to the preschool.

“Our toddler room did the worst,” Grotemeyer said. “They do a lot of drooling, and it’s tough to keep up with them because they have their mouths on everything. Our infants and preschoolers did pretty well though. We only had one or two cases in the preschoolers.”

Rocky Mountain Montessori in Dillon had two diagnosed cases of the flu, and Summit County Pre-School in Frisco had one diagnosed. Both saw cold symptoms but didn’t report an increase in absences.

About 10 percent of Summit County Christian School’s students were out with the flu the week before Thanksgiving.

“The worst seems to be over,” said Connie Moody, administrator. “All the days away from each other helped.”

Absence rates at the elementary schools varied.

Breckenridge Elementary had 27 out of 199 (not prearranged) absences Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving break.

“I’ve never seen it that high,” said secretary Linda Appelbaum. “Now it’s back down to normal. We’re doing very well.”

Dillon Valley Elementary also saw more than normal absentee rates before Thanksgiving, citing 30 absences out of 260 students.

Frisco Elementary had a high rate of absences – about 40 – though principal Janis Bunchman was not sure how many resulted from the flu. So far, she has seen eight flu diagnoses in students and two in the staff. But what differs is the severity of the illness.

“The kids are out for at least a week, where they would normally be out for two or three days,” Bunchman said.

Silverthorne Elementary’s absentee rate hasn’t gone beyond nine students in the last two weeks.

“We haven’t been affected too much,” said principal Steve Riggins. “We’ve been conscientious about what’s happening.”

Health-care professionals at Summit Cove Elementary have sent more students home sick than usual, though the only age group the illness has hit hard is the preschool. Six of the 12 preschoolers were absent the week before Thanksgiving.

“(In the elementary grades), we’re not hit as hard here,” said Susan Gentile, health-care professional.

Chuck Schettler, the attendance secretary at Summit High School, said absences have increased a bit compared to last year, but Cary Buffalow, the school’s clinic assistant hasn’t seen many sick kids at the clinic.

Absences at the middle school have decreased since Thanksgiving week, when 40-45 students were sick, according to Christie Miller, health para-professional.

Preventing the flu

“First and foremost, hand-washing is the best way to stay healthy,” said Wes Hunter, director of support services at Summit Medical Center. “Everyone (should) wash their hands frequently and use antiseptic foam such as Purell if they cannot wash their hands at a sink. Hand washing should be done for at least 10 seconds with soap and warm water.”

Schools throughout the county sanitize desks, doorknobs, faucets, counter tops and other surfaces daily. Many post signs in bathrooms reminding kids to wash their hands, and teachers tell students to sneeze in their sleeves rather than in their hands to prevent spreading viruses.

Doctors have recommended flu shots, and alternative health-care professionals encourage natural methods of boosting immunity.

Tamiflu, a prescription drug, may be effective in preventing the flu.

“(Tamiflu) would be a good thing to give a kid that is living with other flu victims,” Hunter said. “It would probably cost about $40 at the pharmacy. It is also effective in treatment if started within the first day or two of symptoms.”

The drug, however, is in short supply. Local pharmacies have a limited amount, Hunter said.

A total of 6,306 confirmed cases of the flu had been reported to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as of Wednesday.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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