Friday, October 5, 2012

Risk of flu varies by job, condition, age

Teachers, day care staff, others, urged to get shot
By Nick Tabor, New Era Senior Staff Writer
Though the traditional flu season doesn’t begin until October, four of the 18 or so staff members at Kidz Academy are already sick, said the director, Eva Akpom.
Between all the hugging and cleaning they do, and the kids’ sneezing and coughing, the staff members have more exposure to germs than most of the public, Akpom said.
Many local businesses — including Kroger, Walgreen’s and even, from 9:30 this morning to 5:30 tonight, Cash Express — in addition to the medical offices — are now offering the influenza vaccine.
Health officials say everyone should get immunized. A shot from last year isn’t good enough, as there are now two new flu strains circulating, according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But some groups, such as people who work with children all day, stand especially high risks of infection if they don’t get shots.
The flu is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system — the nose, throat and lungs, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. People can breathe the virus’ droplets in directly, but they can also pick them up from door knobs, stairway rails, computer keyboards and other objects, then transfer the droplets to their mouths, noses or eyes.
Since the viruses are always changing, antibodies developed from previous vaccinations don’t necessarily help whenever flu season rolls around again.
In Chicago, the Department of Public Health and the University of Chicago Medicine are offering free vaccines to all the city’s taxi and limousine drivers.
They had an outdoor clinic on Tuesday at O’Hare International Airport, and they plan another for Midway Airport next week, the Chicago Tribune reports.
These drivers have different customers coming and going all day, hacking and sneezing in their backseats, which puts them at especially high risk. The Tribune notes that many also lack insurance.
At Kidz Academy, new staff members often get seriously ill, then slowly build up powerful immune systems, Akpom said. But she has seen staffers when the early wave of sickness hits.
No one deals with a higher concentration of sick clients than health care professionals. In particular, hospitals and long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, are vulnerable to virus outbreaks if their populations don’t get vaccinated, the CDC reports.
And there are factors beyond occupation and environment that make people vulnerable.
Children younger than 5, but especially those younger than 2, stand a high risk, the CDC reports. So do adults age 65 and older.
American Indians and Alaskan natives seem to stand unusually high risks, the CDC reports.
And anyone with the following disorders should make sure to get a vaccine, according to the CDC: asthma, lung and heart disease, kidney and liver disorders and neurological conditions, among others.
Next week parents of public school students will get forms and letters regarding flu shot, said Mark Pyle, director of the Christian County Health Department. They can opt to get their kids vaccinated at school.
Anyone can walk into the health department between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays to get a shot. It costs $20, but the department accepts Humana, Medicaid and Medicare insurance, Pyle said.
Pyle urges all the counties residents older than six months to get the shot.

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