East Central student dies from influenza
BY SARA PLUMMER and KIM ARCHER World Staff Writers
Saturday, October 03, 2009
10/03/09 at 6:29 AM
A Tulsa teenager has died from Type A influenza, and health officials are trying to determine if it was swine flu.
LaTowyn Gaston, a sophomore at East Central High School, died Thursday — a day after his 16th birthday, said his aunt, Deneeco Young. "It was very quick," Young said Friday.
Gaston started feeling ill Wednesday, and by mid-morning that same day he was taken to St. Francis Hospital, where he was admitted, Young said. He died about 9:40 p.m. Thursday.
"He just got so dehydrated the flu just overtook him," she said.
Gaston did not have asthma or any other underlying health problems, Young said.
The Tulsa City-County Health Department confirmed that a Tulsa County teen had died of Type A flu. He is the fourth Oklahoman to die since the flu emerged in April — and the second younger than 18. The others all had underlying health problems.
"The tragic loss of a child in our community is a reminder of how important it is to continue working on ways to prevent further spread of influenza. My deepest sympathies are offered to the child's family," Tulsa City-County Health Department Interim Director Reggie Ivey said in a press release.
Gaston's mother — Young's sister — is out of work and can't afford funeral services, Young said. Services are pending with Keith D. Biglow Funeral Directors, and school and funeral home officials have offered to help take donations.
Tulsa Public Schools officials are sending a letter home to East Central families Monday. The letter is available at the district's Web site, which can be accessed at tulsaworld.com/tps.
Gaston's aunt said he was "just an outgoing young man. He wanted to be a mechanic and musician." He was also active in Big Brothers Big Sisters and had had the same big brother for more than 10 years, she said.
Vaccine arriving soon: Children and young adults between the ages of 6 months and 24 years are in one of the groups most vulnerable to complications from the H1N1 strain.
They're also one of the targets of the swine flu vaccine — which should start arriving in Tulsa County within the next week.
Tulsa Health Department officials expect 3,400 doses of the vaccine next week — but they'll all be in the form of nasal spray, health officials said.
The doses are among the initial 21,100 that are en route to Oklahoma and are among the first shipments throughout the country.
To get the nasal FluMist, people must be healthy and between the ages of 2 and 49.
"With initial supplies being limited, we will continue to work with our local health care providers to provide the vaccine first to the priority groups that are most impacted by the new H1N1 virus," Ivey said. "And as supplies increase, we will be able to broaden the scope of who we can offer the vaccine to."
The department will not offer the initial doses to the public but will target medical workers who deal with vulnerable patients first, said spokeswoman Melanie Christian.
"We asked area hospitals to provide a number of personnel who would be working most with critical patients. It appears we'll be able to give about 20 percent of what they've requested at this time," she said.
But as shipments continue to arrive, the department plans to send out strike teams of nurses to all Tulsa County schools that want to offer the H1N1 vaccine to faculty and students, Christian said.
The Tulsa Health Department also will implement a countywide school vaccination program by offering some initial vaccine doses to students and faculty at Limestone Elementary in Sand Springs.
"Although many schools are reporting student absences similar to those found during typical flu season, Limestone Elementary is experiencing a higher-than-usual absentee rate," health officials said in a written news release.
The Tulsa Health Department also started providing free seasonal flu shots at its clinics Wednesday, with 1,500 doses given the first day.
People at high risk for flu complications should get both the seasonal and H1N1 vaccinations, Christian said.
State health officials say they expect to get weekly shipments of the vaccine, including injectables, through January.
Game cancellation: Wynnewood High School had to cancel its Friday night home football game against Oklahoma Christian because more than half its players were absent from school due to influenza-like illness, said Wynnewood Public Schools Superintendent Alfred Gaches.
"We didn't feel it would be prudent to put a team on the field that couldn't be effective," he said. The district heard Friday from the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association that the game won't be counted as a forfeit. Because it was to be a nondistrict game, it will simply be a cancellation, Gaches said.
To stem the spread of the flu, Gaches said, all after-school activities were also canceled. He said Wynnewood is near Roff, which had to close its schools this week because so many children were absent with flu-like symptoms.
"We're doing everything we can to curtail the virus. The health and wellness of our students come first," Gaches said.
Sara Plummer 581-8465, Kim Archer 581-8315