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Vaccines available

Procrastinators, take heed: Flu season is in full swing in the state of Kansas. If you've put off getting your annual vaccination, it is time to reassess the situation.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported this week flu or pneumonia already have contributed to 510 deaths this season. Three of them are linked directly to influenza.

"The combination of the 2009 influenza A/H1N1 being the dominating strain and low vaccination rates among children and young adults could be setting the stage for a bad influenza season," said D. Charles Hunt, MPH, state epidemiologist at KDHE. "If you have not had your flu vaccination for this season, now is the time."

The A/H1N1 strain caused a pandemic in 2009, one to which children and young adults were particularly vulnerable. So were middle-aged adults. That appears to be the case again this flu season.

"In Kansas, young adults have typically had the lowest influenza vaccination rates, so we can't emphasize enough the importance of getting a flu shot for this segment of the population," said Dr. Robert Moser, KDHE secretary and state health officer.

The state's Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network confirmed 5 percent of outpatient visits to its clinics are due to influenza-related illnesses. The ILINet reported influenza activity is "high and widespread within the state."

There does not appear to be any shortage of vaccines available. Ellis County Health Administrator Butch Schlyer said the local health department is well-stocked.

The national Centers for Disease Control is tracking the respiratory illnesses reported amongst many young and middle-aged adults, who the CDC said will be disproportionately affected this year.

In addition to obtaining a flu shot, the CDC encourages the following commonsense rules:

* Flu viruses most commonly are spread via coughing, sneezing or talking. As droplets can travel up to 6 feet, cover your mouth as often as possible.

* Washing your hands and common area surfaces is paramount.

* Stay away from sick people.

* If you have the flu, stay home.

There is nothing noble about showing up for work or going to school when contagious. The good you think you're contributing or receiving pales in comparison to the number of others you might infect. Most people recover from the flu in less than two weeks. However, as the statistics bear out year after year, influenza can lead to hospitalization and in extreme cases, death.

Contact your local health provider if you have any questions or concerns.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net