Time to get prepared for flu season

By Mary Thompson, PHN
Houston County Public Health


It’s become easier and easier to get protection from the miserable, uncomfortable and sometimes deadly consequences of the influenza virus.

The vaccine is abundant and available and it comes in a variety of delivery methods. There is the traditional shot that is given intramuscularly (in the shoulder) for adults and in the thigh for very young children. This may cause slight discomfort at the site but provides good protection against the virus, although much better for younger people than the aged.

While research and scientific studies show that the protection from flu shots is far from the desirable ideal of 100 percent protection, the amount of protection one gets, which is 50 to 60 percent for healthy adults and 30 to 40 percent for the elderly in nursing homes, does still reduce the likelihood of getting the disease. And, if one does  get it, the illness is less severe.

Fewer elderly who wind up with the flu after getting a flu shot end up in the hospital so, yes, that is protection!

For those between the ages of two and 50 there is the additional delivery method of nasal mist.  There are a few contraindications for this (asthma, pregnancy or a significant head cold) but studies have actually shown a higher level of protection from the nasal mist – up to 83 percent in children.

There is another new delivery system that uses an intradermal needle. It is a very small needle that just barely punctures the skin and does not enter the muscle. It is 90 percent smaller than regular needles used to give flu shots and is for those who are very fearful of needles.

There is also the fairly new high-dose vaccine for people 65 years and older. This vaccine is the same as the normal flu shot but it is four times stronger, which should provide greater coverage to those who don’t get the same immune response as they age. The cost is covered by Medicare.

In past years flu shots were usually given later in the year – in November and December.  Studies have shown that it does not make any difference if you get a flu shot earlier in the season – even August – as the protection will last well over a year. The current direction from the department of health is to start giving immunizations as soon as the vaccine is available and that is now!

There are also an increasing number of places you can get your flu shot:

• Your clinic

• A scheduled flu shot clinic

• Houston County Public Health

• Some pharmacies

Most insurance will pay for flu shots. You need to check what out of pocket charges are if you are uninsured. If you cannot afford to pay, you may qualify for a free flu shot at the health department.  There will be school-based clinics again this year for kids, school employees and the general public that want to get their flu shot there.

It is easier than ever to know who should have a flu shot – pretty much everybody over the age of six months. The better job we do getting everyone vaccinated, the less  this nasty virus will be out lurking in the population ready to do its damage on the unsuspecting and unprotected.