Flu vaccine a preventive measure for illness


Photo By Rick Harris
Jim Anderson, pharmacist at Union Prescription Shop, gives employee Shelia Malone a flu shot. This yearÕs supply of flu vaccine is expected to be plentiful, and shots will be available later this month at the Carter County Health Department.

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com
Every winter it's a fact of life -- headache, dry cough, body aches, fever and sore throat that signal onset of the flu. Each year 10 to 20 percent of the population gets hit by the influenza virus, but preventive measures are available in the form of a flu vaccine.
"We are already seeing flu cases," said Beth Rader, public information officer for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office.
"We had a report of four cases of flu last month in Carter County, and at least one area hospital has already started vaccinating employees," Rader said.
Because of last year's outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Rader said health officials are encouraging everyone, not only the sick and the elderly, to get a flu shot this year.
Terry Henson, health educator for the Carter County Health Department, said, "The main thing about flu shots this year is that we are not prioritizing as to who gets them and when. In the past we have encouraged specific groups of people such as the elderly or those that might have compromised immune systems to get their flu shot, but this year we are encouraging all individuals to get a flu shot."
Last year, county health department staff gave 1,300 flu shots. Flu shot clinic dates have not been set for this year; however, Henson said plans are tentative for clinics to be held later this month because the vaccine has not yet been distributed to local health departments.
The optimum time to receive a flu shot is in November so that individuals will be immune through March and April when flu cases are most numerous. "There is still plenty of time to get the vaccination," Rader said. "By giving the shots later, the effectiveness will last farther into the spring months," she explained.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8,437 cases of SARS were identified last year worldwide, and 813 deaths were attributed to the disease. Eight of those deaths occurred in the United States.
Rader said the early symptoms of SARS are so similar to those of influenza that an accurate diagnosis is often difficult. "If people come down with the flu, they may think they have symptoms of SARS and vice versa. Health officials are trying to reduce confusion by greatly reducing the number of flu cases this year," she said.
According to Rader, health officials are expecting to see the same three strains of influenza as last year - A-New Caledonia, A-Panama and B/Hong Kong.
Henson said patients can expect the traditional symptoms - fever, cough, and runny nose. "The flu is caused by a virus that spreads from infected persons to the nose or throats of others. In addition to fever, cough, and runny rose, the patient may have a sore throat, headache, and muscle aches," Henson explained.
"Anyone can get the flu. Most people are ill with it for only a few days, but some get much sicker and may need to be hospitalized, especially elderly people and infants," she added.
Henson said protection provided by the flu vaccine usually develops in about two weeks after getting the shot and may last up to a year.
The influenza vaccine is expected to be plentiful this year, eliminating the need for residents to wait before being able to receive it. "The vaccine will be available at local health departments and physicians' offices by the end of the month. Manufacturers have assured that they will produce enough to provide a vaccination to everyone who wants one," Rader said
Rader said there is also no need to worry about the vaccine itself causing illness.
"The flu shot does not give you the flu. Most people have no reaction to it whatsoever, but there are some individuals who may not feel well after they get it, or they may have a sore arm," she said.
As soon as the vaccine arrives clinics will be set up at local health departments. The cost to receive the flu vaccine at the health department is $15, which is covered by Medicare and most insurance, Rader said.
"This is a lot cheaper than doctor bills and lost wages that might be caused by contracting the flu. In the long run, prevention is the best thing," Rader said.
Henson said scheduled Carter County Health Department clinics will be announced by the news media.