Southwest Health District’s 14 county health departments will begin offering seasonal flu shots Wednesday, Sept. 2, roughly a month earlier than usual. Plus, the District has reduced the price to $20.
“We are offering seasonal flu vaccine earlier than usual and cutting the cost to help encourage residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant. “Getting your seasonal flu shot is an important way to fight the spread of the Pandemic H1N1 virus, which, as you know, is already in our communities.”
A seasonal flu shot offers no protection against H1N1 infection, but it will help prevent co-infections, she explained.
“When an individual is infected with more than one virus, it is an opportunity for the viruses to exchange genetic material. That could lead to creation of a more severe virus, or one that is resistant to drugs,” she said.
While the novel H1N1 virus has been getting the most attention, especially since it achieved pandemic status in June, seasonal flu itself can cause significant illness.
“Remember, seasonal flu claims around 36,000 lives and results in around 200,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year,” Grant said. “Now, with H1N1, we may be faced with four or more different circulating flu strains.”
So far, she said, H1N1 has been mild to moderate. “However, we are already seeing high absenteeism and crowded emergency rooms and doctors’ offices throughout the district, and the regular flu season hasn’t started yet,” noted Grant. “Patients who get seasonal flu shots are less likely to end up with complications requiring hospitalization and medical attention from physicians. So that can help reduce pressure on the healthcare system, care-givers and others.”
Vaccine for H1N1 is being produced, but won’t be available until mid-October at the earliest, she said. It is likely to be administered in two doses.
This year’s seasonal flu vaccine contains three virus strains that researchers anticipate will cause the most illness during the flu season. They are A/Brisbane/59/2007 (H1N1)-like virus; A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2)-like virus and B/Brisbane 60/2008-like antigens.
“The 2009-10 influenza vaccine is intended to protect you from getting sick from these three viruses, or make your illness milder if you get a related but different influenza virus strain,” Grant explained.
Anyone who wants to reduce the chance of catching the seasonal flu can get vaccinated. But certain populations face greater risk of developing serious complications from influenza and Public Health experts recommend they be vaccinated. They include:
▪ Children aged 6 months to 19 years
▪ Pregnant women
▪ People 50 and older
▪ People of any age with chronic medical conditions like asthma or heart disease
▪ People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
▪ People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
▪ Healthcare workers
▪ Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
▪ Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (children too young to be vaccinated)
Those who should talk to their doctor before getting a flu shot include anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or a previous flu shot, a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome or is running a fever, Grant added.
She said that influenza usually starts suddenly and may include fever (usually high), cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose and body aches. Diarrhea and vomiting may also occur and are usually more common in children than adults.
“Remember, this year it is more important than ever to get your seasonal flu vaccination,” Grant said.
For more information about flu shots, contact your local county health department or go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.