Friday, February 1, 2013

Officials: Flu shots still worth it

Outbreak started early, but still raging
By Nick Tabor, New Era Senior Staff Writer
Anyone looking for a flu shot locally would be wise to call the pharmacy or doctor’s office before making the trip. Some have run out in recent weeks.
But despite that complication — and despite how late it may seem in flu season — doctors and health officials agree that getting the vaccine is still worth it.
Though the vaccines become available in late summer or early fall, traditional flu season doesn’t start until February or March, said Dr. Keith Toms, a physician at Generations Primary Care in Hopkinsville. So it might just last longer this year.
“Thus far, it’s not showing much abatement,” Toms said. “So it may be more of a smoldering outbreak.”
Kentucky is in its seventh week of widespread flu activity, said Beth Fisher, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet of Health and Family Services. This means more than half the districts have high numbers of cases.

Only two states in the U.S. did not have widespread flu activity as of last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Mark Pyle, director of the Christian County Health Department, sees this as an “early spike.”
“We may see a downturn and then another spike during the coming months,” Pyle wrote in an email. “It is not uncommon to have two spikes of flu activity in a flu season.”
There’s no way to get hard numbers on Kentucky’s flu cases. Doctors and hospitals report potential flu cases to the state, but the state can only confirm certain cases in its lab.
This method is reliable for gauging trends, instead of calculating totals, Fisher said.
High numbers of school absences and closings also serve as helpful indicators, Fisher said.
The Christian County Health Department isn’t collecting reports from local providers, Pyle said.
No local schools have closed because of flu outbreak. But Toms has seen many cases.
“Lots of ill-appearing, high-fever patients, who look pretty miserable,” he said.
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.
A shot from the 2011-12 season won’t fully protect people this year, as two new flu strains are circulating, according to CDC reports.
In general, the state has no shortage of vaccines, Fisher said. But Cayce’s Pharmacy ran out early last week, Area Manager Debbie Barger said.
“There’s none to be had right now, that we can get our hands on,” she said Tuesday.
Scott Ross, a pharmacist at Save-More Drugs, said his business ran out too. It later received a new shipment.
Doctor’s offices generally require prescriptions, whereas anyone can walk in and buy a flu shot at a pharmacy or the health department. But because demand is still high, Ross recommends calling in advance, regardless of the venue.
The Salvation Army and Freeman’s Chapel will have 50 vaccines each to give out Thursday afternoon. They’ll go to the homeless and uninsured. St. Luke Free Clinic will also have some for its regular clients that evening.
The vaccine takes about two weeks to reach full effectiveness — which is about 60 percent, the CDC reports. This means people who get the vaccine are 60 percent less likely to get influenza.
People who don’t fear getting sick themselves might consider the welfare of people around them, Toms said. Because the vaccine is a “herd immunity,” more vaccinations means fewer carriers.

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