Flu season approaching; vaccinations now available

Published 5:00 am Thursday, October 9, 2003

Although the Mississippi flu season doesn’t truly begin untilDecember, state health officials are encouraging residents to gettheir flu shots now.

Flu season opened nationally this month, but Mississippi’sseason usually runs from December to February, according to Dr.Mary Currier, a epidemiologist with the Mississippi Department ofHealth.

“They should go ahead and get their shots, though,” she said.”Any vaccinations received this month will still protect themthrough the flu season.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

It is important to get flu shots early, Currier said, because ittakes the body about two weeks after receiving the vaccination tobuild up the necessary antibodies to fight off a flu invasion.

County health departments can provide flu shots for a $10 fee,or people can contact their family doctor to arrange anappointment.

Nelline Reed, office manager for the Brookhaven clinic, saidMedicare and Medicaid will cover the cost of the shots withpresentation of the insurance card. Children enrolled in CHIPs canalso receive free shots.

She also encouraged people get a $20 pneumonia shot when theyget their influenza shot.

The clinic here began administering the shots Oct. 1, she said,and have given about 500 shots in the past week.

“The turnout this year has been very good,” Reed said. “In thepast we’ve had to turn some away because of a shortage, to save itfor the high risk cases, but we don’t have that this year. We’rereal proud of that this year. We encourage everyone to come gettheir shots.”

The clinic here will remain open late on Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 toprovide residents with more opportunities. They will close at 6p.m. on those two days.

“We’re doing this to help people who work or who might otherwisehave trouble getting here during the normal working hours from 8a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Reed said.

Seniors, diabetics, expectant mothers, children between the agesof six months and two years, and others with comprised immunesystems are strongly encouraged to get their shots early, Curriersaid.

“These are actually people who are more susceptible, andtherefore more at risk, to the complications resulting from the fluthan the flu itself,” Currier said.

People over the age of 65 are the largest group in the nationstruck by serious or life-threatening cases of influenza. More than36,000 Americans a year die from flu complications, but fewer thanhalf of all seniors are getting their vaccinations. The vaccinationrate is even lower among African-Americans.

Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and even asthma, greatlyincrease the risk of getting the flu, having it longer, andsuffering from more serious medical problems as a result of it.People with diabetes are almost three times more likely to die fromflu complications, such as pneumonia or a worsening of theirmedical conditions.

Women past their third month of pregnancy are also encouraged toreceive their shots early. Pregnancy can change the immune systemin the mother and affect the heart and lungs. This raises the riskof medical complications in pregnant women who get the flu andmakes hospitalization more likely.

Young children, especially between the ages of 6 months to 2years, should also be immunized.

“We encourage children should get vaccinated because they have ahigh rate of hospitalization resulting from the flu,” Curriersaid.

She also encouraged people who live or spend a lot of time withanyone in those categories to get their shots to prevent them fromaccidentally passing the highly-contagious influenza to them.

Flu vaccines to provide a 100 percent guarantee against gettingthe virus, Currier said, but do block between 70 and 90 percent ofthe viruses.

“What it does real well is prevent complications resulting fromthe flu, such as pneumonia, hospitalization, and even death,” shesaid.

People who are vaccinated and still manage to get the fluusually have much milder cases than those who were not vaccinated,she said.

Currier urged people not to wait until others around them begandisplaying flu-like symptoms to get their shots because it wouldalready be too late. It takes about two weeks for the body to reactto the vaccine to produce the antibodies need to fight off aninfection.

The two week wait is the primary cause for the belief that thevaccine causes some people to become ill with the flu, Curriersaid. Many people come to get their shots having already beenexposed to the virus and blame it on the vaccine.

Flu symptoms come on suddenly and can include a high feverranging from 101 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, headache, severe achesand pains, tiredness and weakness, and chest discomfort orcoughing. Other possible symptoms include a stuffy nose, sneezing,and sore throat.

The common cold is often mistaken for the flu, Currier said, butrarely causes a fever, headache, extreme exhaustion, or aches andpains. Its most prominent symptoms are a stuffy nose, sneezing,sore throat and a mild to moderate cough.

Flu shots are not recommended in a very few cases, she said.Those include people who have a severe allergy to eggs, have had asevere reaction to a flu shot in the past, or suffered aGuillain-Barre syndrome in the six weeks following a previous flushot.