By Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.
Getting a flu shot this season should be high on everyone's priority list before influenza takes its grip on all age groups, medical professionals say.
"Last year was a very mean flu season, and there are indications this flu season will be as mean," said Dr. Greg Brock, chief medical officer at the Wabash Valley Health Center.
The clinic began offering flu vaccinations Oct. 1 for its regular patients, Brock said, and the sooner a person gets the shot, the better.
A shot does not provide instant protection from illness, Brock warned.
A body can take 10 to 14 days to build up protection against influenza viruses circulating during flu season.
Vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses for the coming season, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This seasons' shots cover four strains of flu virus. The standard dose can be administered in one shot. A high-dose shot is available for older people. For young children receiving their first flu shot, a second dose a month later is recommended.
Jace Biggs, a pharmacist with Milburn Health Mart in Sullivan, was busy this past week traveling to shot clinics.
He visited several locations Wednesday where employers had encouraged their workforce to get vaccinated.
"I'm a big advocate of getting it at least by November," Biggs said. "If you're going to Thanksgiving and family gatherings for the holidays, then you will have more potential exposure to the flu."
Building up immunity ahead of such gatherings is important, he said. And he recommends the stronger vaccine for people age 65 and older.
"It is a little more effective in helping immune memory," Biggs said of the body's ability to fend off invading illnesses.
Opportunities to get a flu shot are popping up around the Wabash Valley as pharmacies, workplaces, urgent care clinics, schools and doctors' offices are receiving their vaccination shipments.
At the Vigo County Health Department, flu shots will be available later this month, said spokeswoman Roni Rozina.
"We are encouraging everyone who can to get a flu shot," Rozina said.
The health department offers shots to residents regardless of insurance coverage, she said.
2017-18 season harsh
Last season, influenza took a heavy toll on all age groups, with the highest death count among children in at least five years, CDC data shows.
The CDC has estimated that a severe flu season can kill up to 56,000 people, hospitalize up to 710,000 and sicken up to 35 million. This past season exceeded those figures, collected data showed.
The CDC said between fall 2017 and spring 2018, the flu:
--Killed at least 160 children, making this the deadliest flu season for children since at least 2012-13, when 171 died.
--Hospitalized 105 out of every 100,000 people, hitting those older than 65 the hardest. That is the highest rate of flu hospitalization the CDC has recorded since it started keeping comparable records in 2010.
--Sent feverish, coughing, achy people to doctors' offices at a peak rate not seen since 2009, when a new swine flu virus caused a pandemic.
The 2017-18 influenza season ran Oct. 1, 2017 to May 19, 2018 and has been classified as a high severity season with high levels of outpatient clinic and emergency room visits.
But the CDC also notes flu is active year-round.
Dr. Brock agreed, and said the best prevention in addition to a flu shot is to stay healthy, get plenty of rest and fluids by drinking water, cover one's cough, avoid sick people, and stay home if you get sick.
The virus spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, spreading the virus in respiratory droplets to people who are nearby. It can also spread when a person touches a contaminated surface or object and then touches their own mouth.
Most people who get sick will recover in a few days to about two weeks.
A moderate complication can be a secondary ear or sinus infection.
Serious complications include pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues, and respiratory or kidney failure.
Those at high risk of flu complications should contact their health care provider, but most people can simply stay home and ride out the illness.
Flu symptoms include fever, a harsh and unproductive cough.
"The patient also looks and feels terrible," Dr. Brock said.
A common cold, by comparison, includes runny nose, sneezing, headaches, but usually no fever.
The CDC recommends annual flu shots for everyone older than 6 months. Vaccination rates have slowly risen in recent years, climbing to 43 percent for adults and 59 percent for children in 2016-17.
Flu vaccines typically prevent 40 to 60 percent of flu cases, the CDC said. But that does not mean people should not get vaccinated if there is not 100 percent prevention.
"We encourage everyone to get a flu shot," Brock said. "It's the best thing you're going to do to not get sick."
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa. ___
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