State rolls out 'Stop Flu' campaign as H1N1 deaths climb

Shyler Haina
Shyler Haina
Dr. Sarah Park
Dr. Sarah Park
Ronnie Gallardo
Ronnie Gallardo

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Swine flu shows no signs, of slowing down and it seems especially deadly among children. The number of kids who've died because of the H1N1 virus so far has topped the number of children who die from regular flu each year.

That has health officials very concerned because our flu season has barely begun. It runs all the way through March. That's why health officials say preventive measures like the seasonal flu shot are more important than ever.

"You're so brave," a nurse tells a young student.

One by one, these kids go through an annual ritual: sitting down for their seasonal flu shot. They either get a needle ....

"It's like a pinch but not very hard," said Shyler Haina, a fifth grader at Kalihi Kai Elementary School.

... or a nasal spray.

The State Department of Health rolled out its "Stop Flu at School" campaign to protect Hawaii's children.

"This program really is an example of how great it is here in Hawaii that we work together," said Dr. Sarah Park, the state's chief epidemiologist. "And when we work together, we can achieve a lot of great things."

Health officials are looking closer than ever on influenza and its impact on children.

So far 76 children in the U.S. have died from swine flu, and 19 just this week. It may not seem a lot, but on the average, every year, less than 70 kids die from the regular flu. So 76 just from swine flu is significant because we're still very early in the flu season.

And regular flu is still a serious matter.

"We know of some serious cases related to regular flu strains in the recent weeks that have occurred," said Dr. Park.

That's why schools like Kalihi Kai Elementary are fully on board, and so are the parents.

"It promotes wellness and physical well being for them and they know the physical health of their children is very important," said Ronnie Gallardo, Kalihi Kai's vice principal.

The seasonal flu vaccine given here does not protect you against swine flu, and vice versa.

"But essentially it is the same vaccine as the regular flu vaccine, in that it's been manufactured exactly the same way by the same manufacturers that make the regular flu vaccine," said Dr. Park.

More than 68,000 like Haina will get at least the seasonal flu shot this year.

"Don't be afraid," she said. "It's not really going to hurt a lot after they take it out."

Health officials warn a minor irritation is preferable to the alternative if they don't get immunized.

Seasonal flu shots will continue until the last week of this month, and swine flu shots will start early next month.