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Children targeted for vaccination to reduce impact of flu season

November 06, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Flu season has officially begun in Maryland. The first confirmed case of seasonal influenza in Maryland was announced Monday, Oct. 31. The timing of this year's first case is comparable to last year, as the first case was reported Nov. 3, 2005, state health officials said. Flu season generally begins in October and can last through May.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population - 15 million to 60 million people - contract the seasonal flu virus each year. But infection rates are highest among children, who can spread the flu twice as long as adults, making them both carriers and sources of infection, according to the CDC.

"There's a national discussion around vaccinating more children," said Rod MacRae, spokesman for the Washington County Department of Health. "It's becoming clear that children are big spreaders of the flu."

The CDC has expanded its vaccine recommendations this year for young children and now recommends that children who are at least 6 months old and younger than 5 years old receive the flu vaccine during the 2006-07 flu season. Last year, a flu vaccine was recommended for children 6 months to 23 months old.

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The expanded age range means 5.3 million U.S. children and another 11.4 million people who would come in contact with them - such as caregivers and household contacts - should be vaccinated, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last year, 81.2 million doses were distributed. The CDC announced earlier this year that influenza manufacturers planned to distribute more than 100 million doses through early January 2007.

This year, the Washington County Health Department is offering the vaccine to elementary students ages 5 to 11 in the Washington County Public Schools system. Students have been vaccinated using a nasal spray called FluMist. The health department immunized 3,393 students, a little more than one-third of the system's elementary school students.

Last flu season, the health department immumizes 6,466 people -81 of them children. There were 80 reported cases of the flu, MacRae said.

According to the CDC, this season's vaccine contains protection against three strains of influenza, Type A New Caledonia (H1N1), Type A Wisconsin (H3N2) and Type B Malaysia.

Though no vaccine shortages are anticipated this year, MacRae said the Washington County Health Department has only received some of the 8,000 vaccines it ordered and will continue to receive smaller shipments throughout December. The reason for the shipment method is due to delays in the production process of the vaccine, MacRae said.

The health department expects to receive the full 8,000 doses, MacRae said.




Who to call for flu shot information



Maryland:

Washington County Health Department - 240-313-3200

State of Marlyand - visit flu.maryland.gov or call the state Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, 410-767-6700.

Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania Department of Health, Fulton County - 717-485-5137

Pennsylvania Department of Health, Franklin County - 717-263-5137

West Virginia:

Berkeley County Health Department - 304-263-1067

Jefferson County Health Department - 304-728-8416

Morgan County Health Department - 304-258-1513

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