The flu season begins in less than two weeks and public health officials are once again urging everyone to protect themselves and those around them.
“The main message we want to get out is, just because we had a light flu season last year, we don’t know what we’ll see this year and we’re recommending every one over the age of six months get the vaccination. That’s the best protection,” said Beth Radar, public relations officer for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office.
“Anytime is a good time to get the vaccine and we recommend going ahead and getting it now. It’s not to early.”
A seasonal advisory posted at Tennessee Department of Health web site states that the flu season runs from October through March and typically peaks sometime between January and March.
In an average year, between 5 and 20 percent of the population will contract the virus. Symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, cough and sore throat but the greater risk is deadly complications from which an average of 36,000 Americans die each year, most of them over the age 65,
While the vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older, state health officials say it most important for people at higher risk — children age 6 months to 5 years, adults over age 50, women who are pregnant, anyone with a chronic illness and anyone who is living with or providing care for someone in a high-risk group, including new parents and grandparents.
“Because the vaccine is not available to infants under 6 months, we strongly recommend parents and grandparents and anyone who is caring for a young infant definitely get a flu shot,” Rader said.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, this year’s vaccine offers protection against three main influenza viruses, A (H3N2), B, and the H1N1 strain more commonly known as swine flu that in 2009 resulted in first worldwide flu outbreak in more than 40 years.
Rader said the vaccine is already available at county health departments across the region. The cost is $25. And the public can call for appointments. “We haven’t heard of any (vaccine) shortages and we expect there will be plenty.”
To avoid spreading the infection, Rader advised, “Wash your hands often and thoroughly, especially before eating. Keep your hands out of your eyes, nose and mouth. And if you’re sick, stay home.”
For more information about seasonal flu and how to guard against it, contact an area health department or visit the state Department of Health web site, http://health.state.tn.us for the latest advisories, recommendations and statistics on a variety of infectious illnesses and immunizations.