Area experts encourage early flu shots
COLUMBUS — With the approach of flu season, health care providers throughout the Tri-State area are recommending everyone age 6 months and older get a flu shot as soon as possible, or at least by the end of October.
Flu activity traditionally begins to increase in October and can last as late as May, with cases typically peaking between December and February. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the best protection against seasonal flu viruses.
“Flu vaccination can help keep you from getting sick, missing work or school and prevent flu-related hospitalization and death,” said Sietske de Fijter, state epidemiologist and chief of Ohio’s Bureau of Infectious Diseases, in a news release. “Getting your flu shot helps protect all, including older adults, very young children, pregnant women and people with certain long-term health conditions who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications.”
Flu vaccines have been updated this year to better match circulating flu viruses, the symptoms of which can include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, according to the bureau.
In West Virginia, statewide reporting for each flu season does not begin until Oct. 1, explained Allison C. Adler, director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
However, flu shot clinics are already popping up in Cabell County as a result of early arriving strands of influenza A and B. According to the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, it’s unlikely there will be a shortage of vaccines for the region, but children and adults are encouraged to get inoculated over the next six weeks.
The Cabell-Huntington Health Department hosted its first flu clinic on Sept. 28. The clinic was open to Huntington residents and any individual who lives, works or volunteers in Cabell County.
“The flu is definitely something that reoccurs every year, so it’s important for us to be able to offer the vaccine to the people of Cabell County. It’s the best way to help avoid getting the flu,” Cabell-Huntington Health Department Director of Health and Wellness Elizabeth Adkins said. “We are thankful to offer the vaccine at no charge to the people here. That’s not the case everywhere.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, 59 percent of children under the age of 18 and 43 percent of adults reported receiving the flu vaccine in 2016-17. Although most people fully recover from the flu, some experience severe illness like pneumonia and respiratory failure, and the flu can sometimes be fatal.
“Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but it’s certainly recommended to get it each year,” Adkins said. “Different strains pop up every year and the vaccine is updated each year to accommodate those new strains, so it’s important to stay up to date with it.”
In the Bluegrass State, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky also has announced a statewide flu prevention campaign, aimed at preventing an epidemic-level flu season like last year, when more than 10,000 people were infected.
The Focus on Flu campaign is urging people to get vaccinated on Kentucky Flu Shot Day, which was Wednesday, Sept. 26, or by the end of October.
Officials say they want to see vaccination numbers increase, just a portion of the campaign’s focus that also includes providing flu prevention strategies and educating adults on when to consult a doctor if symptoms occur.
“If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading it to others,” de Fijter said.
While vaccination provides the greatest protection against the flu, other effective ways to avoid getting or spreading it include: washing hands frequently or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer; covering coughs and sneezes with tissues or coughing or sneezing into elbows; avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth; and staying home when sick and until fever-free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication.
More information about influenza and flu activity in Ohio is available at www.flu.ohio.gov.