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Flu shots available again

January 11, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Responding to an increasing number of cases of flu and flu-like illnesses across Maryland, the Washington County Health Department will offer a new round of immunizations, Health Officer Robert Parker said Tuesday.

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Nationwide, reports of flu cases began coming in earlier than health providers expected. In Maryland, the number of confirmed influenza cases jumped from 16 to 66 from Dec. 22 to Jan. 6, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Influenza cases are not documented unless confirmed by laboratory tests. But studies show that as many as half the flu-like illnesses reported may actually be flu, Parker said.

Tri-State health officials Tuesday said they were seeing several types of illnesses but few or no confirmed cases of flu. Washington County has had no confirmed cases so far this season.

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"What we're seeing here in the county is a lot of illness," said Parker.

Two local schools reported absentee rates of more than 10 percent last week, he said. Many youngsters had gastrointestinal symptoms. Other anecdotal information suggests rampant viruses, he said.

"We are seeing a lot of respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia and flu-like symptoms, but not an overabundance of flu," said Sheran White, spokeswoman for Summit Health, which owns Waynesboro and Chambersburg, Pa. hospitals.

"We haven't had that many (flu cases). A few but not a whole lot," said Nancy Stolipher, a nurse at the Jefferson County Health Department in West Virginia.

Health departments do not treat flu patients, but they monitor reports of the illness.

"I think it's just beginning to get in here. Reports from doctors are relatively low," said Elaine Renner, nursing director at the Berkeley County Health Department in West Virginia.

"I was surprised by it," she said. The county typically has more cases by this time of year, according to Renner. "I expect it to go up," she said.

Influenza symptoms include fever, coughing, chills, headache, sore throat and body aches. It is a contagious disease caused by viruses that change often.

Vaccines are developed each year by researchers trying to anticipate which influenza virus will strike.

It takes about two weeks after a shot for antibodies to develop. The flu season generally runs from November to March or April. The best time to get a vaccine is between September and December, according to the U.S. Health Department.

But it's not too late.

"Even if people get their shots now it will afford them protection," said Betty Shank, spokeswoman for the Washington County Health Department.

For pneumonia or flu shots, adults 18 and older can stop by the Health Department at 1302 Pennsylvania Ave. from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday. Donations of $7 will be accepted, but Medicare can be billed.

Immunizations also will be given at the Hancock Community Center at 125 W. High St. in Hancock, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday.

On Jan. 20, the shots will be available at Noland Village Community Center, 1048 Noland Drive, Hagerstown.

The Franklin County Health Department is not currently offering immunizations, according to nurse Ann Baker. "We just don't have them," she said.

The Jefferson County Health Department offers shots from 9 to 11 a.m. every Friday. The immunization is free to those older than 65 with a chronic illness. A $6 donation is asked of all others.

The Berkeley County Health Department offers shots every Monday from 1 to 4 p.m. Walk-ins are accepted during the week.

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