Time to get a flu vaccine

felicia.kitzmiller@shj.comSeptember 19, 2013 

ISTOCK

Temperatures are inching down and the chill in the air means something more sinister than the holidays is quickly approaching.

Flu season will be here soon, meaning now's the time for flu vaccines, according to area medical experts. The vaccines have been arriving at area medical facilities over the last few weeks and are readily available. A detailed list of where the vaccine can be obtained throughout South Carolina is available at vaccine.healthmap.org .

"Get it early," said Kathy Bryant, manager of infectious disease prevention at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. "We're trying to get in front of an outbreak of the flu."

While the flu season varies from year to year, the first cases typically appear in the beginning of October and hang around until the beginning of May, according to doctors.

Last year was widely considered a mild flu season in South Carolina, but 46 people died of the flu or related complications, said Dr. Riyadh Muhammad. Another 1,700 people were hospitalized because of the virus.

"We know the flu is going to be here and people are going to be very, very sick, be hospitalized and maybe end up dying," Muhammad said. "The best thing to do is get your flu shot every single season."

Flu vaccines typically contain the three strains of the influenza virus that researchers determine months in advance are likely to be the most popular and dangerous for the upcoming season. Choosing the strains to include in the vaccine is tricky because the flu virus can mutate throughout the season. Muhammad said the vaccines are usually about 70 percent effective.

"Some years they get it a little better than others," Dr. Shannon Webb of Roebuck Family Practice.

This year, the chances of getting it right will be heightened in at least some of the vaccines. About 30 million of the 135 million vaccines produced in the U.S. will contain four strains of influenza instead of three, according to the Centers for Disease Control's website. The traditional vaccine includes two strains of influenza A, including H1N1, and one strain of influenza B. The new vaccines will contain a second strain of influenza B.

"There was enough flu that might not be covered that a fourth would be helpful," Muhammad said.

Last year, Bryant said Spartanburg Regional saw about as many type B flu cases as type A, making her hopeful this year's vaccine might be more effective.

"If you got the vaccine last year and still got the flu, in all probability you had the B strain," she said.

The flu vaccine is encouraged for everyone more than six months old, with very limited exceptions for allergies or illnesses.

While the flu is generally not serious for otherwise healthy people, there's no reason to get sick if you don't have to, Webb said.

"It hurts, you miss work, there's lost productivity," he said.

The flu is also extremely contagious, which is part of what makes it so dangerous, Muhammad said.

Health care workers, those who spend a considerable amount of time around children or the elderly are also strongly encouraged to take the vaccine, along with people with respiratory issues, or illnesses affecting the immune system.

The very first time someone is vaccinated, there is a course of two shots, but after that, only one treatment is necessary for each flu season. A stronger dose of the vaccine is available for people more than 65 years old whose bodies might not produce sufficient antibodies with a lower dose.

There is also a new delivery system available to make the vaccine a little more bearable. An intradermal shot is delivered via a very fine needle between layers of skin, instead of being delivered to the muscle tissue like a regular shot.

"It's a great option for people who have a fear of needles," said Kristi Webb, office manager for Roebuck Family Practice.

Webb said she had the shot and experienced mild redness and a small amount of itchiness at the site of the injection.

The vaccination is also available as a nasal spray for people 2 years old to 50 years old.

The price and availability of vaccine options varies by location.

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