Flu dries up vaccine supplies

Friday, December 19, 2003

As the coughing, aching and fevers keep spreading, the Cape Girardeau County Health Department is out of flu vaccine for the second time this fall.

The health department administered more than 4,600 shots before running out of vaccinations in late November. A new shipment arrived earlier this month, and 5,100 more shots were given before the department again ran out Thursday.

No more vaccinations are expected to be available this season, said Vicki McDowell, a registered nurse and communicable disease coordinator with the county health department. Southeast Missouri Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center are also out of flu shots.

Cape Girardeau County had 200 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu as of Thursday.

"But we know there are many more cases out there that haven't been confirmed," McDowell said.

The flulike, upper-respiratory virus that struck Southeast Missouri early in 2003 is back with a strength-sapping vengeance, which has been noticeable in area schools.

For the second time this year, Advance superintendent Michael Redman has watched the number of sickly children in his schools escalate to the point where he has no choice but to cancel classes.

Advance is the first area school to close, although several other districts in Missouri have shut down within the past week for the same reason. In the Jackson School District, 262 students were absent Thursday morning. Another 44 went home sick later in the day.

Assistant superintendent Jim Welker said the low point of the week was Monday, when 350 students, or around 8 percent, were absent. With Christmas break starting today, Welker said district officials did not consider closing school.

Cape Girardeau School District superintendent Mark Bowles said his schools averaged between six and 18 students -- or 2 percent of the overall population -- out sick this week. Those numbers are not enough for the district to consider canceling classes.

"I think most schools are trying to hold on until Christmas break," McDowell said. "Hopefully by the end of break, this will have passed."

Nearly 25 percent of the Advance School District's 464 students were out sick Wednesday, prompting Redman to call off school for Thursday and today.

"It just kept getting worse, and our attendance rates dropped too low," he said. "What else can we do?"

Christmas vacation started early in Advance, before students even had a chance to take the final exams that were scheduled for Thursday and today. The exams have been put off until after the school resumes classes Jan. 5.

"That's always a problem with a long break," Redman said. "We'll probably have a week of review when we come back."


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