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Jun 16, 2009 7:14 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Swine flu diagnosis for two Sag Harbor students

Jun 16, 2009 7:14 PM

Two students at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor are apparently among a rapidly growing number of people on the South Fork who are believed to be suffering from the H1N1 Infuenza-A virus, also known as swine flu.

According to the Suffolk County Department of Health, cases of the seasonal flu strain are still circulating, but the H1N1 strain has become the more prevalent in recent weeks. Although most cases are not severe, the flu is blamed for two recent deaths in the county.

“If you are sick, chances are, that’s what you have,” said Grace Kelly-McGovern, public information officer for the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. “It’s ubiquitous.”

Southampton physician Dr. Mark Kot said that his office, Southampton Urgent Medical Care, has treated more than a dozen people he diagnosed as having the H1N1 flu over the weekend. He said the number of cases has been climbing steadily in recent weeks, but that most cases have been mild and responsive to treatment.

“We’ve seen a big surge in cases in the last 10 days or so,” Dr. Kot said. “It’s been out here since Memorial Day weekend. A lot of them are school-age kids ... and families. If one person in a house gets it, everyone gets it. Close contact—that’s how it spreads.”

Dr. Kot said that he has not sent any samples from his patients to the state for official confirmation of the H1N1 strain, but he noted that as the seasonal flu waned in the early spring, the H1N1 became the dominant strain of flu.

Flu vaccines administered in the fall offer no protection against the H1N1 strain, and there is no widely available vaccine yet for the new virus.

Dr. Fredric Weinbaum, chief medical officer at Southampton Hospital, said his staff has also seen a substantial uptick in the number of flu cases at the hospital—numbering in the dozens in the last few weeks—as well as in the number of cases family physicians and primary care doctors have reported to them.

“Most cases are not more severe, however, than the usual endemic Influenza-A,” he said. “If someone has developed symptoms, they should stay out of their workplace and try to limit their contact with others. Stay at home.”

Ms. Kelly-McGovern said that, officially, there has still been only a single confirmed case of H1N1 on the East End, a Hampton Bays man, but she noted that testing for the virus is being done only in rare cases, when a person has a severe underlying medical condition that may have weakened his or her immune system.

There have been 81 confirmed cases in Suffolk County this spring. Two people, both Brookhaven Town residents, have died after contracting the H1N1 flu virus—and both suffered from serious prior medical conditions, Ms. Kelly-McGovern said.

To positively confirm a person suffers from the H1N1 strain, a blood sample must be sent to a state laboratory upstate. The state has requested that samples be sent only in cases of extreme illness or when underlying medical concerns exist. Testing the samples to confirm the H1N1 strain takes about a week, Ms. Kelly-McGovern said.

In that time, most of those who likely have the virus are recovering with basic treatment, Dr. Kot said. He said once a patient tests positive for influenza—a basic swab test can confirm flu, but not which strain it is—he has been prescribing Tamiflu and has found most patients are recovering within a few days.

“If you have an underlying medical condition, it’s better to see a doctor sooner rather than later,” Ms. Kelly-McGovern said. “But for the vast majority of healthy people, the symptoms have been mild.”

Since the majority of patients are not being tested specifically for the H1N1 strain, Dr. Weinbaum said he suspects that the actual prevalence of the so-called swine flu on Long Island and statewide is very likely “vastly understated.”

The two Sag Harbor students who came down with the virus were out of school for part of last week but were cleared by their doctors and returned to school on Monday. Sag Harbor Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said on Friday that the district was notified of the diagnosis on Thursday, June 11. A letter notifying parents of the two students’ diagnosis and containing flu prevention advice from the Department of Health was sent to all district parents that day, Dr. Gratto said.

The students, a 10th-grader and a 12th-grader, both girls, had been home from school for at least a day before they were diagnosed with the H1N1 flu by a family physician, who notified the school district. The two students, whom Dr. Gratto would not identify, are not related.

“It’s no cause for alarm,” Dr. Gratto said on Friday morning. “The students are not in school—they are being treated. We’ve sent out very appropriate recommendations from the [Suffolk County] Department of Health. And our staff and school nurses are being very vigilant.”

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I really think that people should stop saying mot to worry and be more honest and forth coming with information. At Pierson HS last weekend Dancehampton held their recital so the school was occupied by children from the age of 3 on up and from all different school districts, I would like to know if the HS informed the people using the facilities of this. I personally have children with unique health issues that would not hold up well to a battle with a deadly flu strain and think I have the right ...more
By east end mom (4), East Hampton on Jun 12, 09 12:29 PM
School officials did a responsible job notifying people as soon as they found out. What did they know last weekend that they didn't tell you. Someone might have the flu. I could tell you that everyday-CAUTION-SOMEONE MIGHT HAVE THE FLU TODAY
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jun 13, 09 5:50 PM
My coworker got the Swine Flu here in the hamptons. He's a local and lives out here full time. I agree, this is sorta serious.
By landarchi (33), Southampton on Jun 13, 09 11:23 PM
Think they dropped the ball on this................I know for a fact theses kid's had it for awhile
By bigmac (8), portjeff on Jun 15, 09 8:09 AM
The whole point is that this virus is NOT that serious. The only reason the schools go out of their way to communicate with the community of it's existance is because it was such a big news story, thereby keeping people from freaking out. People who get the flu of any kind can die. We're not going to keep our kids home everytime the flu is going around, and that's exactly what we have right now, albeit in a very limited portion of the population.
"Using new and improved statistical models, ...more
By HarborDad (37), Sag Harbor on Jun 15, 09 12:51 PM
While i am totally on board with how the media blows everything out of proportion on just about everything they report, i think the key to any school is the fact that they keep the parents and public informed. They sent a letter out and got the word out and that is what they have to keep doing. While most children will be able to defend against this virus, the warning goes out more to the children and parents that may have a compromised imune system- special cases. It will be a personal choice ...more
By DOTTS76 (8), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 15, 09 2:28 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Paul Canson, Southampton on Jun 15, 09 3:01 PM
if schools sent out a letter every time someone had the flu, then there would be no school. Over-protective parents, thinking they're being vigilant, would just keep their kids away at every little case. Then when there's a real health issue, the school would have no credibility.

My 3YO daughter had 3 cases of swine flu in her class. They cancelled school for 3 days but only because the NYC board of health demanded it. More kids missed school from pink eye and lice - it's amazing how ...more
By littleplains (305), olde england on Jun 15, 09 3:14 PM

I understand your point - but read the book on the 1918 Swine Flu outbreak. The first wave of cases were relatively mild - like now - the virus then morphed into a real killer of not just already sick people but healthy ones. I assume that's the concern here by the medical field and hence part of the hype. This version may not morph like 1918 - I guess no one knows - but we do need to be aware of it.
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Jun 15, 09 4:12 PM
North of HIghway,

I read that book as well, but forgot whether the people infected on the first, less severe round fared better or worse when the virus morphed - do you have that info?

been curious about it since this flu started, but can't find the book ;-)

By quioguebirdfreak (25), quiogue on Jun 15, 09 5:21 PM
North of Highway,
Fair, but I think we can all agree that one of modern science's motivating forces and that of the research people within is that we now posses the ability to thwart any such problem. I get it, let's be careful and aware and communicate, as oppossed to selling advertising time on the eveniing news and getting people scared. I might be wrong, but the language between the lines is that this is a new flu strain, be careful and take the usual precautions.
By HarborDad (37), Sag Harbor on Jun 15, 09 7:49 PM
i dont know, maybe you're right about 1918 flu... all i know is, about 200 people have died WORLDWIDE since it began... more people got killed crossing the street or doing laundry in that time.

Plus, most people who have died didn't go to a doctor or hospital when they felt bad.

I caught a "normal" flu around the same time that the kids in my daughter's class got sick. they were back in school within a week and i still felt like sh*t 2 weeks later.
By littleplains (305), olde england on Jun 15, 09 7:52 PM
The real epidemic on long Island is the herion problem among our 20somethings. It dwarfs the swine flu and is almost always permanent. Our govt. should put more effort into containing the drug epidemic.
By kelly (75), hampton bays on Jun 15, 09 8:47 PM
I don't consider my self 'over protective' at all. If the schools send out notices with every lice case and every strep throat case, why not the flu? I think you divert panic when you are forth coming with appropriate information. I do make choices not to expose my two sons to things they would have a more difficult time fighting off. Not all flu strains are the same and this isn't even flu season yet its all over the news and people are dieing and most of them have had 'underlying medical conditions'. ...more
By east end mom (4), East Hampton on Jun 16, 09 1:33 PM
Guess what folks, I called the department of health in suffolk county myself and there have been NO REPORTED CASES to the dept of health for these
Pierson students. Give them a call yourself, I spoke to a wonderful nusre who said they might have been positive for regular flu but not for H1N1. Again the Suffolk County Dept. of Health has no record of these cases. Nothing like some
rouge doctor and the media trying to scare the crap out of us again.
By sagharborparent (30), sag harbor on Jun 18, 09 2:31 PM