Officials announce start of flu season

NASHUA – State officials announced the arrival of the flu Monday, saying the first cases in the 2004-05 flu season were confirmed in laboratory specimens taken from patients in Durham, Derry, Concord and the Seacoast.

But the news didn’t take Dr. Lila Monahan by surprise, nor was it unexpected for others in the community who deal with sniffles, coughs, fever and the like on a regular, seasonal basis.

“We haven’t told anyone (they have flu), but we’ve seen patients with classic symptoms this weekend,” said Monahan, a pediatrician with Partners in Pediatrics, an affiliate of Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.

Influenza is an acute viral disease of the respiratory tract, spread through coughing, sneezing and contact with affected surfaces such as telephones, door handles, counters and more.

Consequently, preventive measures are effective, health experts agree.

Monahan said she and her colleagues are telling parents of newborns to turn away guests carrying colds or other illnesses and instruct toddler siblings to kiss the new baby’s toes or belly rather than their face.

She could not predict if the national flu vaccine shortage would increase the number of cases locally.

“We’re ready,” she said, adding that an adult should contact her primary care provider at the first sign of flu and that parents should call their child’s pediatrician as soon as possible after symptoms appear.

“If it’s caught in the first 48 hours, there are medicines that shorten the course of the flu by a day,” she said.

Stefan Russakow, director of the Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services, said Monday’s announcement from the state Department of Health and Human Services reinforces the need for continued respiratory etiquette.

“This emphasizes the fact that we should continue to practice good prevention activities,” said Russakow.

In a prepared release, state epidemiologist Jesse Greenblatt reminded people to cover their noses when sneezing and their mouths when coughing, and to wash their hands frequently to avoid passing or catching the virus. The state official also cautioned against sharing utensils and said anyone who is sick should stay home from work or school.

Russakow said his department recently distributed more than 1,500 doses of adult flu vaccine to area medical practices and long-term care facilities. On Friday, the office will sponsor a pediatric flu clinic at St. Joseph Church, 777 W. Hollis St. The walk-in clinic, which is free, is for children between 6 months and 23 months; older children and adults will not be vaccinated, said the city official.

Dr. Peter Gould, an emergency room physician at St. Joseph Hospital, said the flu is apparently on time: typically it arrives in late November or early December, he said.

“We don’t have a feel this is any different this year than in years past,” he said. “We don’t expect an epidemic in the area.”

Ironically, Gould added, the shortage of flu vaccine encouraged many who normally don’t get vaccinated to get a shot this year.

“In this area, if anything, with the shortage of flu shots, more managed to get them,” he said.

State officials said high-risk groups who should get the flu shot include:

n All children, 6 months to 23 months.

n All adults, 65 and older with priority for those with one or more chronic conditions.

n Children 6 months to 18 years on chronic aspirin therapy.

n Anyone between 2 and 64 with underlying chronic conditions, with priority given to those with heart, lung or kidney disease and those with weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, long-term steroid treatment or cancer treatment.

n Residents of long-term care facilities.

n Pregnant women.

n Health care workers involved in direct patient care, with priority given to health care workers caring for highly immune-compromised patients.

n Caregivers and household contacts of children younger than 6 months, with priority given to those who live with children younger than 6 months.