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Community gets ready for flu season

Denise Walden, North Country Health Services employee health assistant, vaccinates Donna Hightshoe, North Country Regional Hospital nurses' aide, Wednesday against seasonal flu. Any NCHS employee hired since 2007 must receive a flu shot as a condition of employment. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

As the flu season looms, community health and emergency services are gearing up to protect the public.

Last week, North Country Health Services employees began receiving seasonal flu shots.

Denise Walden, employee health assistant at NCHS, said the vaccine came in early, so she took a cart and toured the North Country Regional Hospital building giving shots.

With Food and Drug Administration approval of the H1N1 flu vaccine Tuesday, NCHS employees will be part of the immunization campaign against that strain of the disease as well.

Anyone hired by North Country Health Services after 2007 must be vaccinated against the flu as a condition of employment. Last flu season, the vaccination campaign resulted in 79 percent of the 900 NCHS employees being immunized. Wendy Gullicksrud, NCHS infection control and patient safety director, said some people think it is possible to contract the flu from a flu shot, but that is not true because the vaccine does not contain live virus.

She said anyone not immunized puts patients at risk.

"And their families," said Smolenski.

"We're asking visitors to stay home if they're ill," she said.

In addition, masks are available at the entries to the hospital. Frequent hand washing, care in covering coughs and staying home with flu-like symptoms are also part of flu prevention etiquette.

"Stay home from school, from work, from the mall," said Penny Echternach, NCHS communications director.

"Businesses need to plan on not having as many employees," said Carol Sele, NCHS preparedness coordinator.

"Employees should be looking at alternatives for day care, too," said Smolenski. "You need to have a backup plan."

Immunizations are available from Beltrami County Public Health for infants, children and adults. Immunizations are held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays at a walk-in clinic at Health & Human Services Family Health Department and Tuesdays through Fridays by appointment.

As for the H1N1 vaccine, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Tuesday that 40-50 million vaccine doses will be available by the middle of October and will be distributed to each state's health department officials.

Those most susceptible to the H1N1 flu are women in their third trimester of pregnancy and people with underlying health problems such as asthma and diabetes.

Initially, the H1N1 vaccine will be reserved for health-care workers, pregnant women, children and young adults, who have been disproportionately affected by the new virus.

Smolenski said NCRH had one person admitted with H1N1 last spring. That person recovered and went home well. Two Beltrami County 4-Hers who contracted H1N1 at the Minnesota State Fair did not require treatment.