September 15, 2009

Flu outbreak highlights need for school nurses

Source: NYSUT News Wire

School nurses are an essential part of the state's efforts to handle a major outbreak of the H1N1 flu - but State Health Commissioner Richard Daines said there simply aren't enough of them.

"As I've traveled around the state for (informational) town hall meetings, school nurses came out in force," Daines told the Board of Regents on Monday. "They're prepared and confident ... The biggest problem is that there are not enough of them."

Especially in times like these, Daines noted, "Maybe we ought to review how many resources we put into school nurses."

NYSUT has long made the case for legislation that would require at least one school nurse in every school building.

Daines said schools and colleges remain on the front lines as the state Health and Education departments are working together to deal with what could be the year's third wave of flu. This latest strain appears to be hitting the young and school-age, rather than the elderly who may be immune due to a similar virus in 1957.

"We're trying to take a calming approach," Daines said, noting that rather than closing schools, it appears the best containment strategy is for the ill to stay home until the virus has run its course. The vast majority will become mildly ill and should remain "out of action" for five days, he said.

Daines said a vaccine should be available in October, with pregnant women, young babies and children ages 6 months to 24 years encouraged to get immunized first. It will be a challenge for such a high number of people to get immunized quickly, so health officials are looking at ways to expand then number of sites and those who can administer vaccines. Education officials reported they expect to have about 2,000 to 3,000 pharmacists certified by mid-October. The pool may be expanded further to include dentists and podiatrists.

Regent Robert Bennett of Buffalo suggested that immunizations could be administered in schools. "With 4,000 buildings, we could capture every student in the state of New York," he said.