Dear Doc: Flu shot time is here |

Dear Doc: Flu shot time is here

Myths and legends are the lore that fills our imaginations when we set our minds free. Even in our unconscious thoughts, decisions may be influenced by those improbable truths. I can only think of how it must have been in 400 B.C. when a scholar named Hippocrates put to words an unseen bringer of death. He carefully described the coming of fevers and chills, weakness and a cough with difficulty breathing. Perhaps he was describing influenza, bringing a myth to reality?

Dear Doc,

I have heard flu shots being advertised. Should I get one so early? Should everyone in my family get one?


Afraid of the Flu in Vail

Dear Afraid,

Every year it almost seems like a race to see which ski resort is the first to open and who will offer flu shots first! This year, Eagle County’s Health Department will host the first large immunization clinic on Saturday. According to Jill Hunsaker, Eagle County’s public health manager, Eagle County will participate in an emergency exercise from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday to test the ability to vaccinate a large number of people in a short amount of time. Everyone is invited to receive their seasonal flu shot at this event. The goal is to vaccinate 1,000 adults and children.

These flu clinic exercises will take place at Berry Creek Middle School (1000 Miller Ranch Rd., Edwards) and Gypsum Elementary School (601 Highway 6, Gypsum). Flu vaccinations cost $20 for adults and $5 for children. FluMist nasal drops (a non-shot alternative) will also be available. Participants are advised to wear a short-sleeved shirt to help things move faster. For more information, contact the Eagle County Public Health Department at 970-748-3280.

Like a great urban legend, our ancestors must have truly been terrified of influenza. From the past to the present here are some incredible facts:

– An influenza type illness was first described by Hypocrates in 400 B.C.

– The world’s most significant death toll from a viral illness occurred during the Spanish Flu pandemic from 1917 to 1919. More than 20 million people died, surpassing the entire death total from World War I.

– According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) an average of 36,000 people die from the flu each year in the U.S. This nearly equals the death total in automobile accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 42,000 people died as a result of a motor vehicle accident in 2001.

– More than 114,000 people are hospitalized every year as a result of the flu.

– Despite these alarming numbers, influenza vaccine rates remain low. On average only 66 percent of people who should be vaccinated actually receive the vaccine.

– People who receive the flu vaccine have a 50 percent reduction in death rates from all causes compared to those who don’t get vaccinated.

The best medicine is prevention and the best prevention is vaccination. The flu vaccine is effective against both influenza type A and B. Because the flu moves around the world, scientists track it in order to predict which mutation will be most active in any given year. They usually do an excellent job in developing vaccines that work. Although not perfect, the flu vaccine is 70 to 90 percent effective in the general population. Unlike measles, mumps or rubella, the flu changes each year so yearly vaccination is necessary. The vaccine is available and recommended for everyone from 6 months of age through adulthood, but certain groups of people are identified as high risk and should place a high priority on receiving the vaccine. These recommendations are:

– Children age 6 months through 5 years old.

– Pregnant women.

– People 50 years of age and older.

– People of any age with certain chronic health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease).

– People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

– Household contacts of person at high risk for complications from influenza.

– Household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age.

– Health care workers.

There are only a small number of individuals who should not get the flu vaccine. These people include:

– People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.

– People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination.

– People who have developed Guillian-Barre syndrome within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.

– Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group).

– People who have a moderate to severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated).

There are two types of flu vaccine this year, Trivalent Inactivated Influenza Vaccine (or the flu shot) and Live, Intranasal Influenza Vaccine or the flu spray or nasal mist.

The major difference, other than how they are given, is in the words “Inactivated” and “Live.” While the inactivated flu shot is given in the arm and rarely can cause mild flu-like symptoms, it cannot cause the flu. It can be used for anyone 6 months of age or older, including healthy people, those with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women. Flumist is given as a nasal spray. It can be used for healthy people, 2 to 49 years of age, who are not pregnant. Because it contains a weakened form of the actual flu virus it can rarely cause the flu, thus the restrictions.

No matter how strongly you believe the myth that the flu shot is worse than the illness, it is time to wipe that slate clean and get vaccinated! There will be several places to get your vaccine, including local pharmacies and your doctor’s office. If you get the chance however, get yours early, help out our Health Department’s mass immunization effort and stop by Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards or Gypsum Creek Elementary School in Gypsum Saturday morning.

Next week I’ll talk about prevention, as well as keeping our hospitals safe from flu-carrying visitors who might infect those most at risk in our community.

Please keep your questions coming in! The only bad question is the unanswered one!

Let me know what’s on your mind at Remember your health is your responsibility! Health is our greatest asset and it doesn’t happen by accident. If something doesn’t seem right, or questions are left unanswered don’t wait, call your doctor.

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