Flu Outbreaks in Summer Camp

My, my!  Camp sounds like quite a different experience this year….Parents who arrived for visiting day on Sunday at Camp Matoaka in Smithfield, Me., got a tiny bottle of Purell, and at lunch, the serving staff wore masks and gloves. “This is a different year,” said Jason Silberman, the director.

The Latest Accessory At Camp This Summer?
The latest accessory at camp this summer?

Temperature checks start the moment the campers get off the bus or plane. Many intercamp sports and socials have been canceled or postponed. And hand sanitizer is everywhere.“We’ve never had flu in the summer like this,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, Maine’s public health director. “We have 33 camps in Maine with outbreaks, and another 10 in the pipeline being tested. Some of them have 70 to 100 kids in isolation, so they’re running shadow camps for them.”

A Preview of the Fall?

Dr. Mills and other experts believe the outbreaks here are a barometer for what will happen in the schools this fall. H1N1 has wrought havoc with summer camps in other states, too.  But Maine, with more than 100 sleep-away camps, seems to have been hit especially hard. Some camps send children home as soon as they develop a fever — often disrupting the plans that parents had made for those weeks, whether it was a second honeymoon or a chance to paint the kitchen.

But most camps are not sending campers home, instead keeping them in the infirmary, the gym, the arts and crafts building, wherever emergency cots will fit, for the seven-day isolation period. Camp Modin, with about 380 campers and 130 staff members, had about 90 cases of flu, enough so that both the Beavers cabin and the Teen Center were cleared out and used for quarantine housing.

“We’ve taken 6,000 temperatures this summer,” said Howard Salzberg, the camp director. “We’ve bought all the Clorox wipes in every Wal-Mart we could drive to. We’ve spent about $45,000 on this, $30,000 on Tamiflu alone, and probably another $15,000 on the masks, the gloves, the games for the kids in isolation.”

Almost 300 campers and 100 staff members went on prophylactic Tamiflu for 10 days, Mr. Salzberg said, and the H1N1 virus stopped spreading. “We had to go to 10 different places to get enough Tamiflu,” said Fritz Seving, the director of Camp Fernwood in Poland, Me. “We had 2 sick girls, then 6, then 28, but within 24 hours of starting Tamiflu, it ended.” “Of our 330 campers and staff, 297 decided to take the Tamiflu,” Mr. Seving said. “Since we began it July 11, the only girl who got sick was not taking it. You can’t argue with those results.’

Breeding Ground for Resistance?

For camp directors, there may be no argument. But for Dr. Mills, the issue is far less clear. “I understand completely why they’re doing it,” she said, “but from the broad public health point of view, I can’t recommend it. When you start giving Tamiflu in large quantities, you start breeding resistance. If you give it to otherwise healthy young people who’ve been exposed, every boarding school and college student will be on Tamiflu pretty soon, and since you don’t stop prophylactic use until seven days after the last case, you can imagine the quagmire.”