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A little shot will do ya

November 10, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Cue the "Jaws" theme.

The flu is coming. The flu is coming.

It's already hit Canada, and it's stronger than anticipated, says Washington County Health Officer Bill Christoffel.

Caused by a virus, influenza infects the respiratory tract - nose, throat and lungs.

Flu seasons are different, because the viral strains change every year, but experts at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that approximately 10 to 20 percent of people in the United States get the flu.

A bout of the flu can be more than just uncomfortable. About 114,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications, and approximately 36,000 die from flu-related complications each year.

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Annual flu shots are recommended for people at increased risk of serious complications. They include:

-- people older than 50.

-- residents of facilities housing people with long-term illnesses.

-- adults and children older than 6 months who have chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma.

-- adults and children older than 6 months of age who need regular medical care or who were hospitalized because of metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), chronic kidney disease or a weakened immune system.

-- children and teenagers - 6 months to 18 years - who are on long-term aspirin therapy and therefore could develop the often fatal Reye's syndrome after the flu.

-- women who will be more than three months pregnant during the flu season.

The CDC also encourages influenza vaccinations for healthy children ages 6 to 23 months because they are at increased risk for influenza-related hospitalization.

Some Tri-State area health departments have begun offering flu shot clinics. A series of clinics in Washington County will begin Thursday, Nov. 13, in Hancock.

Washington County has 8,000 doses ready to go.

"Our goal is to use up every last drop of it," Christoffel says.

About 1,600 flu shots have been given at the Berkeley County Health Department so far this season, says Sandy LeMaster, nurse director. She's had her shot and encourages people to be vaccinated.

"The more people we get vaccinated, the safer the county is," she says.

Flu shots don't give you the flu. The injectable vaccine is made from killed flu viruses and cannot cause influenza, according to information on the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov.

Common possible side effects can include mild arm soreness and redness or swelling at the injection site and may last one to two days. Allergic reactions are rare, and there's only a one in a million risk of Guillain-Barr syndrome, a rare paralytic illness, according to CDC.

Some people may feel feverish or experience aches in the muscles or joints after a flu shot, says Dr. Cameron Duffy, a family physician and medical director of Jefferson Urgent Care in Charles Town, W.Va. He says such symptoms likely are a good sign that your immune system is active and preparing antibodies that will help your body fight off the infection should you become exposed.

He doesn't recall ever seeing someone who felt bad enough to go to the doctor after the flu vaccine, but he's seen hundreds with the flu in the clinic and has admitted many flu sufferers to the hospital.

Scared of needles?


An alternative - in the form of a nasal spray - was approved earlier this year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FluMist, which contains live virus vaccine, delivers vaccine by a squirt up the nose. Some Maryland elementary school students are trying the nasal vaccine this season, and Christoffel says Washington County may consider it next year.

"It's very expensive," Duffy says. The one-time dose of one squirt per nostril costs about twice as much as the injectable vaccine.

In addition to offering flu shots, Washington County Health Department is encouraging a common sense approach to help prevent the spread of flu and other germs.

Although it may seem silly to have to mention it, sneezing etiquette is important. Flu can be transported in the droplets that emerge when you sneeze, Christoffel says.

Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Wash your hands, Christoffel says in a return to "good, old-fashioned public health."

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