Cities, towns respond to flu crisis

Public Health Nurse Kathy Malski, RN, gives a flu shot to Peggy Jo Thomas, of Morris, during a free flu shot clinic at Milford Health Department offices in Milford.

Public Health Nurse Kathy Malski, RN, gives a flu shot to Peggy Jo Thomas, of Morris, during a free flu shot clinic at Milford Health Department offices in Milford.

Linda Krol has to get a flu shot every year. The 52-year-old Milford resident ruptured her spleen as a teenager, and now lives without one, leaving her immune system compromised.

That means she’s at higher risk of getting the flu, and of having complications if she gets the illness, so she’s usually diligent about getting a shot.

Except for this year. “I forgot to get one,” she said.

Her timing was a bit ironic, considering that this is a particularly bad flu season that’s led to multiple deaths in Connecticut, including that of a 10-year-old boy. In light of the intense season, many towns in the state have scheduled additional flu clinics.

That includes Milford, which hosted an additional flu clinic Wednesday afternoon, hoping to accommodate as many unvaccinated residents as possible.

“We’ve been having flu clinics since October, but in light of the increased influenza activity, we decided to do an additional clinic,” said Milford health director Deepa Joseph. “We felt it was import to able to provide another opportunity for residents to get a flu shot.”

Others that have scheduled additional clinics include Fairfield, Stamford, Stratford, and Norwalk.

“The goal is to break down barriers and encourage more parents to get their children vaccinated,” said Bernice Bova, nursing supervisor for the Stratford Health Department.

For Krol, Wednesday’s clinic in Milford was a blessing. Spurred by media reports about the intense flu season, she decided to get vaccinated during a recent doctor’s appointment, but the practice was out of the vaccine. When she heard about the health department’s clinic, she headed over.

She said this flu season seems worse than previous ones, particularly with the coverage she’s seen about flu deaths.

“It seems a little scarier than usual,” Krol said.

Influenza, or flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that can infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. Though most people recover from flu, some develop complications such as bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. In some cases, the illness can lead to death.

As of Jan, 20, 32 people in Connecticut had died of flu this season, the state Department of Public Health reported. Between Jan. 14 and 20, 6 percent of outpatients in the state showed signs of flu — more than double the rate recorded during the same period last year.

The percentage of emergency room visits for fever or flu jumped last week from 7.3 percent to nearly 10 percent, the Department of Public Health said.

Though certain groups are more susceptible to the flu — including adults over 65, pregnant women, young children and those like Krol with compromised immune systems — even otherwise healthy people can develop serious problems. That was the case with Nico Mallozzi, 10, of New Canaan, who died earlier this month from flu-related complications.

There have been concerns about this flu season from the beginning, given that the Southern Hemisphere, which gets the flu season first, had a rough run with the illness. And Joseph said she saw an uptick in calls asking about the flu shot in the past week.

“There’s definitely been increased interest,” she said.

In Norwalk, that city’s director of health, DeAnna D’Amore, echoed those thoughts.

“We have been hearing from a lot of people concerned about the flu,” she said.

In response, Norwalk hosted a clinic on Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. Though the clinic has a regular clinic from to 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, D’Amore said the Thursday clinic was designed to accommodate more people.

“We wanted to choose a time that was more convenient for working adults and school-aged children and their parents,” she said.

Running low

However, not everyone is scheduling extra clinics — or is able to do so. In Greenwich, the town health department’s supply of vaccine was used up during five community flu clinics between October and December, health director Caroline Baisley said.

“We have checked with several doctors in Greenwich, and those that have vaccine are vaccinating their patients,” Baisley said. “In addition, the pediatric groups have an ample supply of vaccine and they, too, are continuing to vaccinate patients.”

In Trumbull, Health Director Rhonda Capuano said the Health Department recently depleted its available vaccine, but has ordered additional doses for children.

State Department of Public Health spokeswoman Maura Downes said that despite reports that some departments and doctor’s offices are running low — or out — of vaccine, there should be enough available through the state and other channels to meet the demand.

“DPH’s Connecticut Vaccine Program has been and continues to coordinate with medical providers and local health departments to fulfill requests for additional flu vaccine for children,” Downes said by email. “The program, which provides flu vaccine for children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years, has an ample supply of vaccine and has distributed vaccine to providers and local health departments who’ve requested doses of the vaccine. Flu vaccine for adults is not provided by the Department of Public Health. According to the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there is an adequate supply of flu vaccine available nationwide for providers who order it.”

Meanwhile, public health experts advised that people not only get a flu shot, but take other actions to keep from getting sick, including washing hands regularly and staying away from people who are sick.

For Krol, getting the flu shot has given her at least some peace of mind during a tense time. “I didn’t hear about flu being this serious before,” she said.

Staff reporters R.A. Schuetz and Robert Koch contributed to this report.