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Published October 07, 2009, 10:59 PM

Flu Hits North Dakota Schools

Flu hits ND earlier than usual; some schools shut

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The flu is striking earlier than usual in North Dakota with schools closing and some communities reporting a temporary shortage of seasonal flu vaccine.

Schools in Fort Yates have closed for the rest of the week due to the large number of students absent, though school activities were not canceled. Superintendent Terry Yellow Fat said students and their families were asked not to come to the nearby clinic with flu symptoms because it was overwhelmed.

"We've got students with fevers in school, vomiting in some cases," Yellow Fat said Wednesday. "They're taken immediately home."

The three Standing Rock/Fort Yates Community Schools — elementary, middle and high school — have a total of more than 700 students on the reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border. About a third of the elementary students were absent Monday.

The closing went against the advice of health officials who advocate leaving schools open but recommend students stay home if they're sick.

"We don't really recommend closing at this point, but we do know that we will be seeing these kind of situations in various locales as the H1N1 season progresses," said Keith Johnson, administrator for the Custer Health District, which includes the Fort Yates area. He said officials haven't determined whether all the students who stayed home have swine flu, or H1N1.

"H1N1 is the flu that's circulating right now," Johnson said. "It's pretty early for seasonal flu."

Kirby Kruger, a state epidemiologist, concurred. "Influenza activity is definitely increasing," Kruger said. "It's unusual for us to have that level of activity early in the season."

Officials said the shortage of seasonal flu vaccine in some communities is temporary.

"We're still very early in the vaccination season and a lot of the shipments just haven't been made yet," Kruger said Wednesday. "There may be a while before there's stocking in some areas."

In Bismarck, city and county public health officials said Wednesday that flu mist is still available for healthy people ages 2 to 49 but they are temporarily out of vaccine for adult flu shots. The vaccine still is available for children ages 6 months through 18 years who have no insurance or are on medical assistance, officials said.

In the Jamestown area, Central Valley Health District administrator Robin Iszler said seasonal flu vaccine supplies are on back order and may not be available for a month.

Drug manufacturers say the need to create a swine flu vaccine has helped delay shipments of seasonal flu vaccine. Swine flu requires a separate vaccination.

North Dakota reported 285 cases of flu this week, including 59 swine flu cases, according to the Health Department's Web site. The first shipment of 4,000 swine flu vaccine doses is expected by early next week.

In Grafton, Superintendent Jack Maus said 57 of 282 high school students, along with 10 teachers and staff members and 55 of about 260 middle school students, were absent Wednesday with flu symptoms and colds. Cross country and volleyball practices, as well as a junior high football game, were canceled.

At Jamestown Middle School, officials said more than 90 students out of about 500 were absent Monday, compared with about 20 students at same time last year.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.