Swine flu hits Myrtle Philip School 

Two cases confirmed in Whistler, two in Pemberton, one from Squamish

The H1N1 flu has arrived in Whistler, hitting at the heart of the community in Myrtle Philip school.

Two cases of the flu have been confirmed by lab tests, one in a 10 year old and another in an 11 year old. Both are students at Myrtle Philip. More students have been clinically diagnosed with H1N1 (without a lab test) because of their symptoms and their proximity to infected individuals.

That has created a ripple effect in the school. Thirty-five kids were confirmed absent from school on Tuesday. Thirty-two were absent Wednesday. There is a noticeable absence in one or two classes where the H1N1 was first diagnosed.

That's roughly a 13 per cent absentee rate in a school of 252 students.

It has also created a ripple effect in the wider community, with doctors and health care professionals fielding dozens of questions and visits from worried community members daily.

Medical Health Officer for the region Paul Martiquet put the situation in perspective this week.

"I think we know H1N1 is circulating," he said. "This is not unexpected."

One Myrtle Philip parent, who did not want to be named, said his child was exhibiting all the symptoms of the flu and was clinically diagnosed.

The symptoms - headache, loss of appetite, cough and a high fever for a few days - were like any other flu. He is keeping his child away from school for seven days.

"If it had been any other flu, he would have been back at school," said the parent.

The local outbreak comes on the heels of reports that three more people in B.C. have died from swine flu this past week.

Since Oct. 20 there have been 88 new severe cases in the province, the majority in the Fraser Health Region with Vancouver Coastal following.

None of the recent Whistler cases have been reported as severe. Generally, the sick patients are told to stay at home for a week.

But still, the situation has many parents worried, particularly as the H1N1 vaccine will not be available for the general public until mid-November.

"I'm a concerned parent and I've kept my daughters home (from school)," said Nancy MacConnachie on Tuesday evening.

She said there has been no official communication from the school to parents and the information she has is from asking her own questions.

"I'm confused by the lack of information," she admitted.

School officials are monitoring the absentee rate very closely this week.

School Board 48 Superintendent of Schools Dr. Rick Erickson said they have not sent home any communications to parents because the numbers don't warrant it.

"It doesn't represent, with the number of cases of the flu, an inordinate number," he said.

At a meeting this week, school officials reviewed the district's draft pandemic response plan, which details how it will cope in the event of a pandemic.

When asked if he was worried about this week's situation, Dr. Erickson said "I've been in education quite a long time, over 30 years.... But the pandemic plan, I've had no understanding of anything like that during my career. So I'm concerned that we are making sure we're prepared and that we're monitoring students' absenteeism."

School staff are ensuring students are washing their hands, not sharing any food items, not touching their eyes, nose and mouths.

The school is also stepping up its custodial services.

"We're told that basically if we can maintain good hygiene through the school that the school is as safe as any place in the community," said Erickson.

Contrary to reports that Whistler has no vaccines, public health officials confirmed this week that the vaccines are here. But they are not available to the general public yet.

The vaccine is now being offered to high-risk members of the community before being offered to the public at large.

Dr. Martiquet is advising that everyone get immunized.

While he said the vast majority of people who come down with H1N1 are exhibiting minor symptoms, there are some who experience a greater severity of illness. The majority, though not all of those, have pre-existing medical conditions.

Martiquet also said, with the 2010 Olympics on the corridor's doorstep, "The onus is on us to make sure we're not spreading (the H1N1 flu)."

Vaccines will be available at Myrtle Philip Community School starting Wednesday, Nov. 4 for those individuals most at risk - those under 65 with chronic disease, pregnant women in the latter half of pregnancy and First Nations. Both the seasonal and the H1N1 vaccines will be available.

The flu shots will be available for the rest of the community starting Mon. Nov. 16.

To find out dates and times and the information for other location in the Sea to Sky corridor, go to www.health.gov.bc.ca/flu.




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