ST. GEORGE – Utah’s flu season typically picks up in mid-November and last through February. Have you gotten your vaccination yet?
September and October are touted as the best months to get that flu shot, said David Heaton, Southwest Utah Public Health Department public information officer. This is because it usually takes about two weeks after receiving the flu shot to build an immunity for the upcoming flu season, he said.
In order to encourage Southern Utah residents to get their flu shots, the SWUPHD holds “Flu Shoot-Outs” across the five-county region. They set up shop in parking lots and allow people line up in their cars and drive through for a flu shot.
The St. George Shoot Out took place in September, with the last shoot-out taking place Monday at Ruby’s Inn in Bryce City, Garfield County.
Just because you may have missed the shoot-out doesn’t mean you’ve missed the chance to get the shot.
“It’s still prime time to get your flu shot,” Heaton said, adding the health department rarely runs out of the annual vaccine during flu season. “It’s available and still effective.”
Still, he encourages people to get the shot sooner rather than later.
“The only risk (of waiting) is if (the flu) is really rampant and you contract it before you get a shot,” Heaton said.
So just how bad is the flu season going to be this year? Health officials look at the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season for a possible preview of what the it could be like here.
“Most of the time its pretty accurate,” Heaton said.
According to the Associated Press, Australia has been hit hard with a flu strain that can produce severe illness, particularly in seniors.
General symptoms of the flu include headaches and muscle aches, fever, chills, tiredness, sore throats and a dry cough.
Seniors, those 65 and older, are considered one of the vulnerable populations in regards to the flu, Heaton said. Other vulnerable populations include infants, individuals with chronic health conditions and pregnant or nursing women.
Individuals who may otherwise be healthy should get a vaccination in order to prevent becoming a carrier who could unknowingly infect at-risk individuals, Heaton said.
“Immunization is not just about protecting yourself, but doing you part to protect other people so you not a vector spread disease,” he said.
Overall, only about 47 percent of the population was vaccinated last year, according to the Associated Press.
A fact people may not realize, Heaton said, is that influenza still kills thousands of people across the United States each year. Annual death estimates run between 20,000 and 30,000.
Seniors make up the group with the highest mortality rate.
So get vaccinated, Heaton said. A person can visit the Southwest Utah Public Heath Department for shots and those should be available all season long.
“It’s a time-tested, safe beneficial vaccine,” he said. “It’s not 100 percent, but it goes a long way.”
Flu shots through the Health Department are $20, and no charge with proof of the following insurances: Aetna, DMBA, Healthy Premier, Medicaid, Medicare (depending on HMO plan), PEHP, SelectHealth, Tall Tree or United Healthcare.
No appointment is needed, but photo ID is required for all services. For more information, maps to locations and downloadable intake forms see the Southwest Utah Health Department’s immunization webpage.
Southwest Utah Public Heath Department locations:
- Washington County | 620 S. 400 East, St. George | 435-673-3528, ext.1
- Iron County | 260 E. DL Sargent Drive, Cedar City | 435-586-2437
- Kane County | 445 N. Main St., Kanab | 435-644-2537
- Garfield County | 601 E. Center, Panguitch | 435-676-8800
- Beaver County | 75 W. 1175 North, Beaver | 435-438-2482
Who needs a shot?
Everybody, starting at 6 months of age, according to the CDC.
Flu is most dangerous for people over age 65, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions such as asthma or heart disease.
But it can kill even the young and otherwise healthy. On average, the CDC says the flu kills about 24,000 Americans each year, and last year, the toll included 105 children.
Last year, three-fourths of babies and toddlers – tots ages 6 months to 2 years – were vaccinated. So were two-thirds of adults 65 and older.
How well does the vaccine protect?
The CDC says people who get flu shots have a 40-60 percent lower chance of getting seriously ill than the unvaccinated. If someone is infected despite vaccination, generally they have a milder illness than if they’d skipped the shot, said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
“I like to tell my patients, ‘You’re here complaining, that’s wonderful – you didn’t die,'” he said.
It takes about two weeks for good protection to kick in. Flu season tends to peak around January, but there’s no way to know when it will start spreading widely.
Manufacturers say between 151 million and 166 million doses will be available this year. It’s already widely available in doctors’ offices and drugstores.
Will the shot make me sick?
You can’t get influenza from flu shots, specialists stress. But flu vaccine doesn’t protect against colds or other respiratory viruses that people can confuse with influenza.
Lots of options
The regular flu shot comes in versions that protect against either three or four strains of influenza – including that problematic H3N2 strain, another Type A strain known as H1N1, and one or two strains of Type B flu.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist about other options which are available for certain age groups.
For needle-phobes, there’s a skin-deep vaccine that uses tiny needles, and a needle-free jet injector that shoots another vaccine through the skin.
Two vaccine brands target the 65-and-older crowd. They’re especially vulnerable to flu’s dangerous complications because they tend to have more underlying health problems than younger people – and because standard flu shots don’t work as well with age-weakened immune systems.
One high-dose version contains four times the usual anti-flu ingredient, while a competitor contains an extra immune-boosting compound.
And for those worried about allergies from eggs used in the production process, two more vaccines are egg-free.
Sorry kids, no nasal spray option
FluMist, a less ouchy nasal spray vaccine, once was popular with children. But last year, a baffled CDC said it was no longer protecting against certain influenza strains as well as regular flu shots and told doctors not to use it. That’s the same advice this year: Youngsters will need a shot, just like their parents.
And for kids between the ages of 6 months and 8 years who are getting a first-ever flu vaccination, they’ll need two doses a month apart.
Insurance covers most flu vaccinations, often without a copayment. For those paying out of pocket, prices can range between $32 and $40.
Ed. note: Analysis of viewpoints concerning immunizations is beyond the scope of this article.
Associated Press medical writer LUAREN NEEGAARD contributed to his article.
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