The flu - The adaptable infection

October 03, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

As the flu season starts, there's a healthy supply of flu vaccine and no new strains are expected, but, then again, the flu does love to surprise us, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said.

The flu virus has an incredible ability to adapt, so new strains pop up. This year's vaccine covers the A/Brisbane strain that wasn't covered by last year's vaccine, said Michael Shaw, associate director for laboratory science in the CDC's influenza division.

CDC officials knew the A/Brisbane strain was spreading last year, but at the time the vaccine was made, fertile hen eggs used to develop vaccines wouldn't accept the first isolates of the strain, so last year's vaccine didn't cover A/Brisbane, Shaw said.

One solution: cell-based vaccines, which might include late-developing strains of influenza because they accept isolates of viruses faster than eggs. Cell-based vaccines might be available in two or three flu seasons, Shaw said.


Several pharmaceutical companies are close to applying for licenses with the Food and Drug Administration to develop cell-based vaccines, Shaw said. Then the virus could be inserted into a mammalian cell for cultures to grow so vaccines could be developed, he said.

Practice for the big one

This year's vaccine is already being distributed through several local sources. Flu vaccination clinics are planned in October by the Washington County Health Department and some local drugstores.

Health department spokesman Rod MacRae said, since the anthrax attacks in 2001, the health department has conducted a mass distribution of the flu vaccine as it would if an epidemic occurred.

This year's mass distribution will be on Friday, Oct. 3. The vaccine will be distributed from 3 to 6 p.m. at most public high schools in Washington County. MacRae said the health department might plan further flu clinics, but people shouldn't wait to get vaccinated.

Tri-State-area residents can check with their local drugstore or health department to see when other flu clinics are scheduled or call their doctor for an appointment.

The health department has about 7,000 doses for this flu season, MacRae said. The department had 7,000 doses last year, distributing 4,930 doses through the department and providing many doses to other agencies, such as the Community Free Clinic.

Washington County had 346 confirmed flu cases last season, but there were more, MacRae said. Many people do not get tested or seek health care for the flu, according to the health department.

Who should get the vaccine

The targeted populations for the flu vaccine expanded with this flu season, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends children ages 6 months to 18 years of age get vaccinated for the flu. Other targeted populations are ages 65 and older; pregnant women; and people at high risk, such as people with respiratory problems or who are immuno-suppressed, Shaw said.

According to the CDC's Web site, influenza can start suddenly. Symptoms might include a fever (usually high), headache, tiredness (can be extreme), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, and diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults).

Area flu clinics

Flu clinics scheduled as of press time:

Martin's Food Markets - 1729 Dual Highway, Hagerstown, 301-745-4904:

o Tuesday, Oct. 7, 3 to 7 p.m.

o Wednesday, Oct. 22, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

o Thursday, Nov. 6, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Martin's Food Markets - 1650 C Wesel Blvd., Hagerstown, 301-766-9148:

o Saturday, Oct. 11, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

o Wednesday, Nov. 5, 3 to 7 p.m.

Martin's Food Markets - Hagerstown, 18726 N. Pointe Drive, Hagerstown, 240-420-0665:

o Tuesday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

o Friday, Oct. 24, 3 to 7 p.m.

Giant Food Markets - 993 Wayne Ave., Chambersburg, Pa., 717-261-1556:

o Wednesday, Oct. 15, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

o Saturday, Oct. 25, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Giant Food Markets - 925 Norland Ave., Chambersburg, 717-267-3304:

o Thursday, Oct. 9, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

o Wednesday, Oct. 29, 3 to 7 p.m.

Martin's Food Markets - 901 Foxcroft Ave., Martinsburg, W.Va., 304-267-6414:

o Wednesday, Oct. 1, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

o Friday, Nov. 7, 3 to 7 p.m.

Washington County high schools - Boonsboro High School, Clear Spring High School, Hancock Middle-Senior High School, North Hagerstown High School, Smithsburg High School, South Hagerstown High School and Williamsport High School

o Friday, Oct. 3, 3 to 6 p.m. No appointment needed. Medicare or $20 donation accepted.

For more information, call 240-313-3456.

The Berkeley County (W.Va.) Health Department will hold flu clinics:

o Fridays starting Oct. 3, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the health department, 800 Emmett Rousch Drive, Martinsburg, across from Martinsburg High School, through November.

o Mondays starting Oct. 6, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at the health department through November.

o Saturday, Oct. 25, from 9 a.m. to noon at Martinsburg Mall.

These clinics are for all ages.

Medicare is accepted. $15 suggested donation; free for ages 18 and younger.

The Herald-Mail Articles