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‘Tis the season, almost

Flu shots available Sept. 20; No shortage of vaccines anticipated

POSTED September 10, 2010 3:42 p.m.
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DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune/

Barton County Health Department Nursing Supervi...

There is good news as the flu season approaches, said Janel Rose, public health educator for the Barton County Health Department.

"This year there should be no shortage of vaccine and the influenza season is expected to be November through March," Rose said. "Our goal is to have our county immunized by Nov. 15 so that everyone is protected before the holidays begin."

With this in mind, the department will begin doing seasonal flu shots daily starting on Monday, Sept. 20, during regular clinic hours. No appointments are necessary.

Persons under age 18 must be accompanied by a parent/legal guardian and no physician’s order is needed. Pregnant women may receive the traditional influenza vaccine. Cost for influenza vaccine shots will be $22 or Medicare/Medicaid Card or Insurance assignment.

County hospitals are joining the Health Department in this fight, Rose said.

A new, high-dose influenza vaccine shot is an alternative that will also be available for anyone age 65 and older. Cost of the new vaccine will be $45 or Medicare card/insurance assignment at the health department. The new vaccine is made exactly the same as the regular dose vaccine, but it has four times the amount of antigen that causes a person to produce antibodies against influenza.

Because of the lower immune response in older adults, a physician may recommend the high-dose vaccine for people 65 and older. However, no physician’s order will be needed.

In addition to Influenza vaccine shots, the health department will also have FluMist nasal vaccine available for persons age 2 through 49 years of age who are not pregnant and healthy. This is a live-attenuated influenza vaccine that contains live but weakened influenza virus.

People with health problems, women who are pregnant and anyone with a weakened immune system should have the traditional shot. Cost of the FluMist vaccine will be $30 at the health department.

The 2010-2011 vaccine provides protection against A/H1N1 (pandemic) influenza and two other influenza viruses – influenza A/H3N2 and influenza B. It will not prevent illness caused by other viruses. Some inactivated influenza vaccine contains a preservative called thimerosal. Thimerosal-free influenza vaccine is available.

It takes up to two weeks for protection to develop and it lasts about a year, Rose said.

The Center for Disease Control’s new recommendation on flu vaccine states that anyone age 6 months or older should receive a flu vaccine. Annual vaccination is especially important for people at higher risk of having serious flu-related complications, or people who live with or care for higher risk individuals which includes anyone with chronic diseases, people in nursing homes, household contacts of people with higher risks, health care workers, and child care providers.

The CDC recommends all children be vaccinated. Children must complete an initial two-dose series of vaccine.

Influenza and its complications, particularly pneumonia, are the sixth leading cause of death in Kansas and in Barton County, Rose said. "During the past few years all area health departments and health care providers have been working to increase flu immunization rates and therefore decrease the number of deaths due to influenza."

"The more people who are vaccinated in an area, the greater the protection for the entire population against a particular disease (known as herd immunity)," Rose said.

Influenza is a respiratory viral disease. Because the virus mutates, the vaccine is updated every year. Common symptoms include fever, cough, chills, sore throat, headaches, and muscle aches. But for those at higher risk, it can be much more severe and even deadly.

An August 2010 CDC report summarized the death rates due to influenza for 22 past seasons. When influenza A(H3N2) is a prominent strain in the flu season, the death rate is 2.7 times higher than for the seasons when it is not. That results in an average estimate of 36,631 deaths with a high of 43,727 estimated in the 2003-2004 flu season.

Flu viruses spread from person to person mainly when infected individuals cough or sneeze. Sometimes people might become infected by touching an object with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Most healthy adults can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick.

Influenza vaccine can be given at the same time as the pneumonia vaccine. This vaccine protects against 23 of the most deadly strains of pneumonia that account for more than 40,000 American deaths every year. It is considered to be a once in a lifetime immunization for many people.

"Compared to the cost of medications and care, prevention is truly a bargain," Rose said. "Take advantage of flu and pneumonia vaccines and protect yourself and your family."

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