Flu shots recommended before influenza season

This article submitted on 10/13/99.

State health officials are urging people to get their annual flu shot within the next few weeks, so they'll be protected by the time flu season gets under way in Minnesota.

Because it takes about two weeks for the influenza vaccine to take effect, October and early November is generally the best time to get immunized, according to officials at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Although it's difficult to predict exactly when the flu season will arrive, the first Minnesota cases are usually reported in late November or early December.

Efforts throughout Minnesota are beginning again to get people immunized against the flu. As in past years, the shots are especially recommended for people who may be at high risk of developing complications from the flu. However MDH officials say other people may also want to consider getting a shot. Studies have shown that, even among young, healthy people, the influenza vaccine can prevent lost work time and reduce the occurrence of respiratory infections.

Vaccine available locally
The flu vaccine has arrived at the Paynesville Area Medical Clinic and patients can call for appointments to receive an immunization. On Tuesdays, from now until mid-November, immunizations will be given at the clinic on a walk-in basis. Patients can come in for a vaccination without an appointment.

An influenza immunization clinic will be held at the Paynesville Area Center on Wednesday, Oct. 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. People age 65 and older and people with a chronic illness are eligible for the immunizations that day. The cost of $7 may be paid by Medicare Part B or other insurance. If you bring your Medicare or insurance card that day, Stearns County will bill your insurance for you.

People at high risk for influenza
The high risk group for flu complications includes people over 65, as well as people with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or immune system problems. It also includes women who will be more than three months pregnant during flu season, as well as some health care workers.

According to the National Coalition for Adult Immunization, influenza and pneumonia together are the fifth leading cause of death for older adults. As many as 20,000 Americans die each year from flu-related diseases. The annual direct medical costs of influenza are estimated at $4.6 billion, with total costs over $12 billion.

The American Lung Association recommends flu shots for anyone who wants to avoid the flu this winter. "Flu shots remain the best way to prevent the flu," said Richard Woellner, M.D., pulmonologist and member of the American Lung Association of Minnesota Board of Directors. "They are inexpensive and readily available in most communities in Minnesota."

"Preventing illness is always better than treating disease," added Cheryl Sasse, director of adult respiratory health with the American Lung Association of Minnesota. "One quick shot in the arm can save you time, money, and keep you from missing out on your favorite winter activities."

Over the last few years, a special effort has been made to encourage flu shots for people with diabetes, as part of the national "Life Preserver"Ęcampaign, coordinated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with diabetes are three times as likely to die from complication of influenza, health officials said. Diabetics are not more susceptible to influenza, but being sick impairs their ability to regulate their blood sugar and cope with their diabetes.

Nationally, fewer than half of all people diagnosed with diabetes have been getting their annual flu shot. Minnesota does slightly better, with just under 60 percent getting their annual dose of the flu vaccine.

Also at risk of flu complications are children and teenagers with diseases like arthritis, which is commonly treated with aspirin. In children, aspirin can increase the risk of developing a serious condition called Reye syndrome after recovering from influenza.

Needed every year
Health officials are also reminding people that they need to get a flu shot every year, even it they've had one previously. The flu vaccine usually has to be reformulated every year, to protect against those strains of the influenza virus that are most likely to make an appearance during the upcoming flu season. However, this year's vaccine is designed to protect against the same strains as last year--A Beijing, A Sydney, and B Beijing.

The symptoms of influenza--which tend to appear suddenly--usually include a sore throat, a dry cough, high fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue. People who become severely ill with influenza-like symptoms should see a physician.

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or upset stomach are not symptoms of influenza. Unlike common respiratory infections, which are often called "the flu," true influenza can cause extreme tiredness that lasts several days to weeks.

You cannot get influenza from the vaccine, said the National Coalition for Adult Immunization. There may be some soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site. Other possible mild side effects include a headache and low-grade fever for a day after vaccination. As with any medication, there are small risks that serious problems could occur after receiving a vaccination. However, the risks from the disease are much greater than the risks from the vaccine.

According to the MDH, people at high risk for flu complications should also get a shot for pneumococcal pneumonia, a common complication of influenza that claims 40,000 lives a year nationwide. Unlike flu shots--which must be repeated each year--the pneumonia shot usually has to be given only once.

For more information, contact your health care provider. The Minnesota Immunization Hotline can be reached at 1-800-657-3970.

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