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Paynesville Press - October 25, 2006

Health tips offered as
flu season approaches

By Addi Larson

With flu season approaching and it being about time for flu vaccines, Shari Heitke, a certified nurse practitioner at the Paynesville Area Health Care System, spoke about why to receive vaccination, the current types of influenza vaccines, who should be vaccinated, and when people should be vaccinated.

Heitke's talk - the fifth "lunch and learn" at PAHCS - took place last Thursday at noon with flu immunization being this month's topic.

Flu season - lasting from November through March with peak months in December, January, and February - is the cause for about 36,000 deaths every year, said Heitke. The incubation period of the contagious disease takes place between one to four days. "You need to think about when it is transmitted," Heitke said. "You may be spreading it and not know it." The flu virus can be transferred four to six days after symptoms occur.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, protection develops approximately two weeks after the vaccine is given and can last up to a year.

There are two types of influenza vaccines, according to Heitke.

•Inactivated: Administered by injection, the inactivated vaccine is commonly referred to as "the flu shot."

•Live, attenuated influenza vaccine: Licensed in 2003, the live vaccine is a weakened, living flu virus and is administered through a nasal spray. Heitke said Stearns County is providing nasal doses for all school children this year.

The actual flu vaccine is updated every year, said Heitke. This is due to the fact that the influenza virus, which usually begins in Asia and spreads throughout the world, evolves every year. This is why, according to Heitke, there cannot be a "stock pile" of the vaccine.

Yet Heitke assured that an ample supply of this year's vaccine will be readily available for Paynesville area residents to be immunized in October and November.

The best time to be immunized is in October or November, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An influenza vaccine administered in October or earlier is recommended for adults ages 50 years or older, children and adults at high risk of complications due to influenza, and those with close contact among highly susceptible persons. Heitke said children under nine years of age who have not received the influenza vaccine in the past should be also immunized early with two doses, given at least one month apart.

According to Heitke, the nasal spray is not recommended for children younger than five years or adults older than 50 years. Also, those with long-term anemia and other blood disorders, asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, or a metabolic disease such as diabetes, and those with a weakened immune system are advised to become immunized through the flu shot. Children or adolescents on long-term aspirin treatment; pregnant women; and those with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome are advised not to receive immunization with the nasal spray.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, "A vaccine, like any medicine, could possibly cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of a vaccine causing serious harm or death is extremely small."

According to Heitke, those who should not be vaccinated or should check with their health care providers before receiving vaccination are: persons with severe allergies to chicken eggs and those who have suffered severe reactions to any vaccine components in the past. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, "those who are moderately or severely ill should usually wait until they recover before getting the flu vaccine."

The influenza vaccine does not cause the recipient to get the flu, contrary to a common misconceptions, Heitke said; however, flu-like symptoms do sometimes occur and the most common side effects are fever, lethargy, and soreness.

The Minnesota Department of Health offers four ways to fight the flu: Get immunized every year; stay home if you are ill; cover coughs and sneezes with your arm or upper sleeve instead of hands; and wash your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and warm water.

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