Calling in sick en masse 

Teenagers are pretty scary on their own, but a mob of 250 teenagers with influenza and dwindling supplies of flu vaccine is downright frightful. On a single day last week, Big Sky High School reported 255 absences—the vast majority of which school nurse Leann Schaff attributes to the flu. In Schaff’s 16 years as Big Sky’s nurse she’s never seen it strike this early and this fast.

Over at Sentinel High School the story is similar. Nurse Penny Atkin says that this year’s hard and early hit has yet to taper off. The nurses do what they can to encourage prevention, but schools are nearly perfect breeding grounds for flu.

“I encourage all the kids not to share drinks and to wash their hands and all that kind of stuff, but it’s really hard to contain,” says Schaff.

The City/County Health Department’s Pam Goldberg says that this year is unusual because of the way the flu ran through the youth population. Normally, the department doesn’t vaccinate children—only people who work with the sick. But this year the bug hit kids first and worked its way up to adults. This year is also unusual because the department is almost out of the adult vaccine. “What’s happened is that the flu vaccine makers evidently didn’t make enough, and so we’ve just got our last shipment of flu vaccine of the year,” says Goldberg. “And we’ve already run out of the stuff for kids three and under.”

As Goldberg is confronted with “lines out the door,” she’s worried that the supply meant to last months won’t last another two weeks.

“Even the doctors’ offices are out of the vaccine,” she says. “We’re the only one who still has it.”

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