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Paynesville Press - December 29 , 2004

Flu shots now available for all Minnesotans

By Michael Jacobson

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health announced that the state had enough flu vaccine for anyone in Minnesota who wants to protect themself from the flu.

The Paynesville Area Health Care System, which has received more flu vaccine, now will provide the flu vaccine to anyone who wants it on a "first come, first serve" basis, said Dorothy Winkelman, director of clinics for PAHCS.

Due to a limited supply this year - one of the country's two flu vaccine manufacturers was unable to deliver any flu vaccine this year - priority had been given for the flu vaccine to the most at-risk people. The health department expanded the qualifications for flu shots in early December and now has opened the flu vaccine to all Minnesotans.

PAHCS has vaccinated everyone who met the original restrictions - people 65 and older with a chronic disease and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, said Winkelman.

PAHCS still has not been able to get any pediatric vaccine, for babies from six months to 23 months of age, this year, said Winkelman.

According to the health department, the flu season in Minnesota lasts into March, or even April, so getting a flu shot now will still provide protection for the rest of the flu season.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease, according to the health department, that can be prevented by immunization. It is caused by a virus that attacks the nose, throat, and lungs. Symptoms come quickly, including fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness, nasal congestion, and body aches.

People die from influenza every year, and many are hospitalized with serious complications, according to the health department. The very young and very old, plus those with chronic health conditions, are most likely to have serious complications from influenza.

Average adults, Winkelman added, may get sick from the flu but should recover, which is why health officials originally targeted at-risk people with the limited vaccine supply. Now, however, anyone can get a flu vaccine.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, to protect yourself from the flu, even without receiving the vaccine, people can:

*Cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; *If without a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve;

*Clean your hands after you cough or sneeze with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner;

*And, if you get the flu, avoid exposing others by staying home from work or school.

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