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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Health officials urge flu shots

With flu season just around the corner, local officials are trying to give prevention a shot in the arm.

While flu season in Tucson typically begins in November, “we’re realizing that there’s actually a trickle of cases all year round,” said Dr. Michelle McDonald, the chief medical officer for the Pima County Health Department.

Health workers say now is the time to get the flu vaccination, which lasts for a year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging an annual flu vaccination for anyone older than six months old. While some people may view getting the shot as an individual protection from the virus, it’s really about protecting the entire population, said Shari Overland, a nurse at Campus Health Service.

“It’s a public thing and so you don’t know if you’re going to be in the store with a pregnant woman or in the movie theater with a little kid … and those are the people who are at most risk,” she said. Overland gives flu vaccinations to UA students, which Campus Health provides for $15.

For some people, the flu virus may only last a few days, but for children and pregnant women, the virus could put them in the hospital, said Shauna Okongo, a nurse at Campus Health.

“If you are exposed to influenza, you can spread the virus three to five days before you even have symptoms yourself,” Okongo said.

According to the CDC, there have been an estimated 3,000 to 49,000 deaths over a period of 30 years, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year in the U.S. for flu-related complications.

Pre-business freshman Reid Lunceford said he gets the flu shot annually, though he hasn’t yet had one this year.

“It’s a quick 15 seconds of pain and it helps protect us from not just the flu, but also the common cold,” Lunceford said.

Some people fear getting the flu shot for a variety of reasons. One of the common fears is that they previously got vaccinated and still ended up with the flu, said Rose Mary Jacob, a nurse at Campus Health who gives vaccinations to Campus Health employees. But it’s possible they had been exposed to the virus prior to getting the flu shot, she said.

“The flu vaccine takes approximately two weeks to develop antibodies against the flu,” Jacob said.

People could also infect others without knowing they have the virus, said Frances Drake, the program coordinator for occupational health at Campus Health, who also gives employee vaccinations. The influenza virus has what is called “shedding,” which takes place a few days before a person actually gets sick and is aware of it.

“The best way to prevent the flu is through flu vaccination,” McDonald said. “If they end up not taking it, I would encourage them to be really vigorous about hand washing.”

Healthy people for the most part are able to get the vaccination without difficulty, but that’s not always the case, McDonald said. People can still get the flu and there’s potential to develop a severe infection. People can develop secondary infections from the virus, get more severe pneumonia or be hospitalized in some cases.

These secondary infections can occur if people have the flu and don’t take care of it, Overland said. But flu complications can also arise for people who are at a greater risk. This could include those who are overweight, pregnant or have a chronic disease, McDonald said.

“Healthy children, teenagers and young adults die from flu every year,” she said.

Drake, Jacob and Overland recommend the medication Tamiflu in the first 48 hours of having the flu virus. It helps alleviate some of the symptoms and makes people feel better sooner, Drake said. How long the virus lasts depends on the person’s immunity system, she said.

If students don’t want to miss class or work, they need to get the flu vaccine, Drake and Overland said.

“I’d be upset just starting out in college and having to miss class and stuff,” Lunceford said.

Jimmy Song, a biomedical engineering freshman, said he is content as long as people aren’t coughing next to him. He said he probably won’t get the flu vaccination.

“I haven’t been sick for five years, so no need,” Song said.

McDonald suggests people encourage their co-workers, family members and schoolmates to stay home if they are infected.

Health workers agree getting the flu vaccination is the best protection from the influenza virus, even for the healthiest people.

“Getting your flu shot not only protects you, but everybody around you,” Okongo said.

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