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Seasonal flu can affect 1 in 5

October 01, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

At this time of year, a few things are guaranteed.

Stores will have abundant displays of candy to tempt those who hand it out to costume-wearers on the last day of this month.

Nights are getting crisp, any excitement children had over returning to school has dissipated and serious films are replacing summer blockbusters at movie theaters.

And the annual flu season is about to begin.

Every year, an estimated 5 percent to 20 percent of the population contracts the seasonal flu virus, with flu season beginning as early as October and lasting into May at the latest.

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Officials in Washington County are starting to get the word out about the annual flu season, with mailings going to county households.

Starting later this month, elementary school children can receive a "flu mist" - a nasal spray - that, like a flu shot, is designed to stop the recipient from getting the flu.

A second follow-up dose will be administered in January or February, said Elizabeth Nuckles, Community Health Nursing program manger for the Communicable Disease Program at the Washington County Health Department.

The mist is free, and information is being sent to parents, recommending they allow their children to have the mist administered.

The Health Department will have a general flu shot clinic in November.

Contrary to a common misperception, receiving a flu shot will not make you sick, officials said.

"The flu shot doesn't actually make you sick because it is a killed virus," said Kathy Morrisey, director of infection control at Washington County Hospital and a registered nurse.

Those who become sick after receiving the shot probably already were incubating the virus, Morrisey said, adding that she has been getting a flu shot every year for about 30 years and cannot remember ever having the flu.

Children, people with compromised immune systems because of an illness or medications, and the elderly should make it a point to receive a flu shot, as should caregivers for those people. Babies as young as 6 months can be vaccinated.

But people in those categories are not the only ones who should get flu shots.

"I think everybody should (receive a flu shot). The challenge is always, is there enough flu vaccine?" said Cindy Earle, coordinator of the hospital's Community Health Education Program and a registered nurse.

The best defense against the flu is taking preventive measures. These include getting a flu shot, thoroughly washing hands, covering one's mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding crowds if sick - meaning those who are sick should not go to work or school, Earle said.

Those who do fall ill should avoid the hospital emergency room if possible. Seeing a family doctor is preferable, in part because other patients at the hospital could be more vulnerable to the virus, said Maureen Theriault, spokeswoman for Washington County Hospital.

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