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Flu season

While public health officials have been preparing for this year's flu season for months, it's time for the general public to begin raising its awareness. More specifically, area residents should be planning to get their annual flu shot.

Even though the 30 days that September hath have yet to pass, vaccinations already are available at health departments, clinics and hospitals throughout the region. Each season tends to be unpredictable as to its severity or timing, so medical personnel are encouraging people to start getting their shots.

"A lot of people worry about wanting to wait until October or whatever, which is fine," said Jeremy Snyder, a pharmacist at Walgreens in Hays. "But sometimes the flu season starts earlier, depending on what kind of weather we have."

Last year, the season began earlier than usual and peaked in mid-December. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year's influenza outbreak was moderately severe. Across the nation, more than 12,000 individuals were hospitalized for flu complications.

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months of age and older to get an annual flu vaccine. Particularly at risk are pregnant women, adults 65 and older, and children younger than 5 -- especially those under 2. Unlike last year, when vaccines were arriving at the same time the viruses started appearing, health care facilities mostly are stocked at this point. Manufacturers reported plans to produce almost 140 million doses for the U.S. market.

"We're seeing a lot of flu vaccine given in September now," said Butch Schlyer, Ellis County Health Department administrator. "There are a lot of doses available, so they start early. Let's get people done."

While receiving a flu shot is the most important preventive measure to take, the CDC says there are other commonsense rules to follow:

* 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.

Although most people who contract the flu recover in less than two weeks, influenza is nothing to treat lightly. Hospitalizations do occur, and sometimes death is the result.

Contact your local health provider or take advantage of the numerous lost-cost options available at county health departments and commercial pharmacies. They're prepared. Are you?

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net